By: Musu Bakoto, Gambia

My journey as a young leader and advocate began when I was about 10 years old. Even as a child, I had so much passion for activism. Together with my fellow young activists, I led many initiatives geared towards advancing the rights of children. However, at the age of 14, my dream was cut short.

My parents decided to marry me off. At that time, I thought my life had ended. I became a victim of the exact things I campaigned against. I felt betrayed by the system and the people I expected to protect me. For many child brides, marriage means the end of an education and the beginning of lifelong struggles. I didn’t want this to be my story. I wanted an education. Although I couldn’t get out of the marriage, my plan of committing suicide motivated my parents to renegotiate with the groom to allow me to stay in school while married. Under very difficult circumstances, I completed junior and high school.

But I knew this wasn’t it for me. I wanted more, and I deserved more. I fought my way through university, where I pursued a Bachelor of Laws Degree. Despite becoming a mother and subsequently a widow while studying, I managed to complete my studies and pursue a Master of Laws Degree in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa.

My journey as an activist and advocate for women and girls has come with many setbacks. Living in a patriarchal society, where women are often associated with positions of welfare rather than leadership, has shattered many dreams. To many, women have been created to be mothers and wives, and have a responsibility of taking care of the home. My personal story has motivated me to change the narrative of women and girls in my country. I have since committed my life and dedicated time and resources to fight patriarchy and empower women and girls to stand up and speak against the injustices perpetrated against them. No woman or girl should be subjected to the things I had to go through.

As a survivor of female genital mutilation and a former child bride, I am raising my voice and using my story to restore hope in survivors of these harmful traditional practices. I want my story to give them the much needed motivation to not rest on their laurels as society relegates them into crushed dreams. As young women, we must hold the government accountable and push for policies that serve our interests. Women and girls have been sidelined and underrepresented in decision-making platforms for far too long. Now, as the head of Think Young Women, a young women-led organization, we are creating a new generation of enlightened young women through initiatives to build their capacities and fortify their voices.  

I have a vision - it is to see a Gambia where women and girls have equal opportunities to dream and realize those dreams. I am on a mission to create safe spaces for women and girls and to empower and uplift them. Through my work, this is happening. The narratives of women and girls must - and will - change!

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#YoungWomenSay is a partnership with Say It Forward in support of International Youth Day 2018 and culminating on International Day of the Girl. The campaign features blogs from incredible young women from around the world, and is designed to harness the power of storytelling and social media to drive attention to their lived experiences, dreams, and aspirations. 

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