Girls who overcome adversity
She was beginning to discover the challenges and intense changes of adolescence when the claws of childhood sexual abuse wound her. Just as the lotus flower closed, it sank into its misery, but at dawn it rose with strength and triumphed over adversity. Today, Laura, after suffering abuse, is an outstanding person and student leader, “she is emotionally well and focused on the future,” says her father.
It is distinguished not by its past, but by its present, by its vision of the future. Like her, hundreds, thousands of girls stand out for their courage in the face of everyday life, despite their young age.
October 11 (2022) marked the tenth anniversary of the International Day of the Girl Child. “Girls around the world continue to face unprecedented challenges in terms of their education, physical and mental well-being, and the protection needed to live a life free of violence,” the UN notes on its website. However, adds the international organization, “in the last ten years, governments, politicians and the general public have worked to improve the problems related to girls, and more opportunities have been created for them to be heard on the world stage”.
Performance and perseverance from childhood
Nicole is 11 years old. Her testimony is a far cry from Laura’s in terms of adversity, but these girls share effort and dedication. His day starts at 5:00 a.m. From the age of four, he begins with the help of his parents to outline his future. She studied swimming, ballet, dancing and folklore. In 2020, she was recognized as the best student in the school of Tang Soo Do Panama (a Korean martial art). Classes are not an obstacle to dedicating the necessary time to your studies. “At eleven years old, Nicole showed that time can be managed between studies, passions, dreams, childhood and family. It’s all about organization and persistence,” says his mother.
Laura and Nicole are joined by Raquel, who leaves home with her parents every day at 4:00 a.m. to go to school. “Being a girl is beautiful, it’s about learning and learning. He also helps my mother and father at home. “Even though I’m very sleepy in the morning, I like school,” Raquel says. “When I grow up”, continues the eight-year-old girl, “I would like to be like these people…”, she looks up, thinks. Start creating in the air, draw lines; “who come up with the shapes of the houses,” he says with a big smile.
For the UN, “girls are poised to move forward in the next decade.”
What does it mean to be a girl today?
Being a girl today is a challenge. “According to our estimates, nine million girls of primary school age will never start learning or enter a classroom,” states the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Olivia Henderson, Regional Gender Adviser for Save the Children, states that: “many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have highly patriarchal societies with deeply entrenched gender norms that are at the root of gender inequality and gender-based violence of gender.’
In this context, Henderson reflects that the education of boys has traditionally been prioritized over that of girls. “Girls are seen as responsible for unpaid domestic work and the resulting lack of economic opportunities for girls means that marriage and motherhood may be one of the few options available,” she says.
She explains that recent challenges such as COVID-19, climate change, conflict, and the rising cost of living are expected to increase economic inequality, exacerbate harmful gender norms, and increase the risk of child marriage for Latin American women and The Caribbean.
In Panama, Jenny Barb, a psychologist, family therapist and president of Fundación Unidos por la Niñez, states, “It is estimated that one in three girls will be a victim of violence before they turn 18.” According to the family therapist, the statistics provide an outline of what is happening. because “only 2% to 5% of cases of sexual violence occurring within the family and approximately 10% of cases of sexual violence outside the family circle are reported.
A search of official public information reveals that “The Ministry of the Public publishes monthly sex crime statistics on its website. This institution describes them in detail without specifying the gender or age of the victims,” says Barb. “In the month of August, 541 cases were reported,” continues the president of the “United for Children” foundation. Sexual offenses are classified as rape, double aggravated rape, sexual contact with a person over 14 and under 18, libidinous acts and sexual harassment. “So there are no public statistics on the percentage of girls who have been sexually assaulted. We can estimate that 90% are girls under the age of 14,” she says.
Laura was 12 years old when she was sexually abused “by someone very close, a brother, who she lived with the most. It was traumatic because in addition to committing the crime, the violence, he threatened her for two years,” her father recalled.
He suffered in silence. “We notice changes, but we attribute them to the time of development, to adolescence. There was no rebellion per se, but he lowered his grades quite a bit, he didn’t laugh much, he was present, but he distanced himself, he didn’t talk,” says the father.
In a slow, high and clear voice, Laura’s father declared: “In a fit of relief, at 14 years old, the girl told her mother.” Pain, uncertainty, tears overwhelmed the family.
Barb, a family therapist, says that during the pandemic, “domestic violence has increased in all its forms, and that includes child sexual abuse.”
“During the quarantine in the first year of the pandemic, many boys and girls were held captive by their perpetrators. Let’s remember that 80% of cases of sexual violence happen in the family and are committed by relatives or family members”, the professional claims.
“At 11 years old, Nicole has shown that she can manage time between studies, passions, dreams, childhood and family. It’s all about organization and persistence.”
How does a girl overcome or live after suffering this insult?
After the situation, Laura’s parents realize that she is not sleeping, “that she tried to hurt herself. Maybe having a younger sister helped her not do anything, even though she wanted to do it many times because of his threat. Because he was so close and had access to the family, he threatened to hurt us if we spoke,” the father recalled.
The firmness of his words means certainty about his daughter’s recovery. His memories are clear. He admits that the fact that “we didn’t know what to do” was recently discovered.
Parents’ intuition leads them to the authorities, who recommend psychological help.
“In all cases of sexual violence, the victim must receive psychological treatment. The younger the victim, the better the prognosis. However, the impact of sexual violence on the emotional lives of boys and girls is not the same in all cases,” says Barb.
“(…) We do not know the reason why some survivors seem to recover more easily than others and respond better to treatment. While others have to turn their lives into a recovery process and be in therapy for years,” adds the psychologist.
Laura’s parents sought psychological help, not suspecting that the process would bring a new challenge, but this was the beginning of Laura’s coming out of the depths, a scenario similar to that of the lotus flower. “Hiring a psychologist in a public service is a bit difficult and tedious. Outside, it cost me about $80 per session, quite expensive for us,” says the father. He did not find a solution in the public or private service, but he came to the Fundación Unidos por la Niñez.
“I contacted them on the phone, they gave me the help I needed, thank God. They gave me an affordable fee and that I visit him every week in the beginning. The professional who served her was successful,” she assures.
She recounts that: “I could see the change in my daughter after that.” Despite all the legal proceedings involved in the case, “after a few sessions my daughter was able to sleep, rest and recover her grades. Today she leaves her high school, thank God, very focused on what she wants, in her university, in her studies.
Laura’s parents helped her overcome adversity. Your life experience is analogous to the daily rebirth of the lotus flower. It is believed that the aroma of this flower is so strong that it is capable of altering states of consciousness. Laura’s courage was and is so strong that today she is impacting young people through her leadership.
His father confidently states: “Joy, family life, friends are back. He is the leader of a student group. She is emotionally well, focused on the future.”
“I have no words to thank for the result I saw with my daughter,” he emphasizes.
Laura’s story is one amidst a garden of lotus flowers. Maribel, Estella and Liam are part of this garden.
Estella and Maribel are clear about what they like about being girls and what they would like to change. “My parents give me everything I need, I have friends and many people love and care about me… but my parents are always in the office because they have to work; when I grow up, I will be able to go to the office and spend more time with them,” says Maribel, while Estela assures that: “everything is fine, I just don’t like it very much when I have to sleep with the babysitter because my parents don’t come. “
Liam’s reality is different. She recalls that when the school year started, she had no uniforms, “but I didn’t care because my mom told me I looked good in the clothes I was wearing. As a girl, I like that I play with my mom every day.”
These girls, between the ages of 7 and 10, face their difficulties every day.
“Adversity often brings with it tenacity and resilience. The world’s 600 million adolescent girls have proven time and time again that, given the skills and opportunities, they themselves can be drivers of progress in their communities, building a stronger future for all, which includes girls. women, girls, boys and men,” reports the UN.
It added that “the girls are well prepared to move forward into the next decade.”
“The time has come to be accountable to and to them and invest in a future that believes in their organizational capacity, their leadership and their potential,” he emphasizes.