Tajik Teenager Speaks Out for Girls’ Education

June 10, 2015

Counterpart helps young leaders gain the skills to stand up for girls’ rights, helping girls in rural communities build better lives and more durable futures.

When she was 13-years-old, Munisa Sharifkhojaeva’s family told her she couldn’t attend an afterschool class to learn about women’s rights. Growing up in Kalanak Village, Tajikistan, a conservative community where women are expected to stay home and keep quiet, Munisa had been told “no” before.

Like many young women in her community, Munisa has faced these challenges with courage: she persisted in her case and convinced her family to enroll her in the course, a 10-week civic education class organized by Counterpart’s Young Leaders Program (YLP). The course taught her about human rights and helped her hone the communications skills needed to make her voice heard.

Now 16, Munisa has been fighting ever since to stand up for herself and other young women, especially the girls in her community who have been forced to leave school to get married. She began by raising public awareness, using the skills she learned to win several regional debates, where she championed girls’ rights for an equal education.

“I’ve seen friends drop out to be married,” said Munisa. “My mom was a very bright student until marrying young forced her to quit school. In my community, girls and women are already vulnerable to discrimination, but without an education, they can become dependent on their husbands, and this can increase their vulnerability to domestic violence and other abuse.”

Munisa also organized a vocational education course for local girls from poor families. As a YLP graduate, she successfully applied for a YLP grant to start a sewing class in Kalanak Village, teaching the lucrative craft of traditional Tajik dress-sewing to seven 14- and 15-year-old girls. Now, some of the girls are sewing and selling dresses to earn money for school supplies, while others are teaching the skill to their sisters and cousins.

“I wanted to help girls learn a skill that can sustain them financially, so they can afford their school expenses and won’t drop out,” said Munisa. “It’s hard for girls here to have the chance to earn a living. I am a girl myself—I cannot be indifferent to those around me.”

“When I see the girls in my sewing class smiling, I am proud,” said Munisa. “They don’t seem so desperate anymore. They aren’t afraid of a life of dependence now because they have hope for a better future. An education for girls means a future of independent choices. I hope my small contribution will bring big changes to their lives and the lives of their future daughters.”

Across nine rural communities in Tajikistan, Counterpart’s Young Leaders Program (YLP) has equipped more than 600 young people like Munisa with the civic knowledge and communications skills needed to become architects of change, helping those around them build better lives and more durable futures. The program has also supported 115 youth-led community projects designed by young leaders to resolve local problems through sustainable, community-owned solutions.

Program: Counterpart’s Young Leaders Program (YLP)
Funded By: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
Partners: Kalanak Youth Center

This story is a part of our #LeadMore series, recognizing our local partners and community leaders.

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