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Equality Journalist of the Year Aged 14-18: Runner Up

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Walk in the Sun

Kayana, Sekolah Buin Batu, Indonesia

If you are a girl, prepare yourself for judgment. Mark my words. If you put on makeup, you’re judged. If you don’t have perfect hair, you’re judged. If you dive headlong into your dreams and not get married right away (or ever), you’re judged. If you get married young – JUDGED. Nothing less than perfection is acceptable, and to top it all, you must not shine. There is just no way to win.

As an ambitious 16-year-old Indonesian, I have encountered numerous instances where my ambitions have been questioned or met with skepticism simply on account of my gender. One of the most disheartening pieces of advice I have ever received was not to be too ambitious or to work too hard because it might intimidate men. What a nerve! The idea that a girl should temper her ambition to fit into patriarchal norms is not only outdated; it is harmful. It sends out the message that a girl’s success and good is not as important as protecting the fragile egos of men. It tells us to always hang back and “put others first”, to act small or “be humble”. Whichever way they put it, they are suggesting to us that women are not as important as everyone else, that we do not deserve an equal right to happiness, success or the limelight.

Growing up with an older brother who was President of the Student Council, I looked up to his leadership qualities and wanted to be like him. Little did I know that stepping into a similar role would arouse so many doubts, which my brother never had to deal with. Becoming a female Student Council President wasn’t just about fulfilling a role for me; it was about breaking stereotypes and proving that girls are equally capable of leading and making a difference. But instead of considering my abilities, I have constantly been met with condescending surprise – “Oh, a girl running the Student Council?” It is as if everyone is caught off guard when a girl steps up because boys – never mind their leadership abilities, are leaders just by virtue of being boys. It starts with the little things we take for granted – playing sport in the sun or carrying heavy objects. These are often met with unwarranted concern. “You’ll get too tanned,” or “That’s too heavy for you. Ask the boys.” Such comments are all too frequent. Society had predefined boundaries for what a girl should or shouldn’t do, based solely on longstanding gender roles.

I want to be seen as a person and to be valued for my capabilities and passion, regardless of my gender. I refuse to conform to anyone else’s idea of what being a girl should mean. I embrace my femininity while pursuing my interests, whether it is playing sports or putting on lip gloss. Girls should never be limited by societal expectations. We have the right to live and enjoy our lives, to chase our dreams, and excel in any field we choose. It is time to shatter stereotypes and expectations and pave the way for a future where every girl can be her authentic self and pursue her dreams without hesitation or apology. As Cyndi Lauper put it: It is time for girls to “walk in the sun.”

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