We have the immense privilege of meeting individuals from all over the world who are taking a stand for women’s rights. Their stories are humbling - reminding us just how many people are fighting back against stigma, confronting the lack of opportunity women and girls' face and pushing ever harder to change their lives, and the lives of others, for the better.
One story that recently stood out came to us, as is natural in today’s digital era, through Facebook.
There we met Shewly. This courageous teenager proves that poverty and suffering shouldn’t define or defeat you. At age 17, she’s working to break down stigma and plans to use her education to ensure that girls in her home country of Bangladesh have the same opportunities as boys and all youth have access to quality education.
Six years ago, Shewly moved to Dubai from Dhaka, Bangladesh with the help of the Maria Cristina Foundation. She’s now in her final year of high school and feels lucky to have the chance to realize her own potential.
“Life would be easier if I was a boy. If I was a boy in Dhaka I could be out ‘til 10 pm, go anywhere I want and spend time in public spaces, no questions asked. I wouldn’t have to deal with gender stereotypes,“ Shewly says.
To be a boy, she remembers, is what she wanted when she was younger. Forget about equal opportunities when it came to education. Even something as simple as riding a bicycle is not something girls are supposed to do in Bangladesh.
But, today things are different. She’s learned about the power of her own voice and is committed to breaking the mold regardless of what others think.
"Now I fight for my rights and the boys in my community get shocked. I love it. I love girls who are not afraid to speak their mind – like Malala,” she says. “I don’t like the way girls are underestimated. It makes my blood go crazy!”
But even in a place where son preference is pervasive and society is clearly divided into socioeconomic classes, Shewly says that she is one of the lucky ones.
“I am incredibly lucky to be…17 years old, not married and studying in one of the most amazing cities in the world,” she says.
Earlier this year, Shewly was doing a project on Girl Rising at school and was disheartened to learn just how universal a girls’ lack of access to quality education and equal rights is. She’s used this as encouragement - determined to change the fate of future generations.
“Maybe people are afraid to break the rules,” she says. “One day, when I am the prime minister, all Bangladeshi girls will be riding bicycles.”
Special thanks to Katrin Winter, and Shewly herself, of the Maria Cristina Foundation for their inspiration and support with this story.