I first fell in love with the cause of empowerment back in 2010 when I was 17 and, having just graduated school, spent a good portion of my gap year volunteering at a school in Nepal. I lived in a house on the outskirts of Kathmandu with 12 girls from all around the world. To tackle the mammoth task of feeding us all, my host family had hired a maid; Fulmaija, who was just 16, didn’t speak a word of English, and was being paid 6000 rupees ($75) a month.
As my Nepali began to improve, and Fulmaija started to pick up on the English which was constantly being spoken around her, we began to communicate. Soon, all of us in the house were great friends with Fulmaija, relishing in her cheeky company. We used to dress her up in our old clothes we had brought over, and laughed as she had her first taste of vegemite. Fulmaija was incredibly intelligent, and I have no doubt that had her family decided to keep her in school, she would have gone on to do phenomenal things as an educated woman.
Towards the end of our time together, Fulmaija began to recieve frequent calls from a strange man offering her highly paid ‘maid work’ in India, until one day, she disappeared, never to be seen by us again. What I have learned since then, is that Fulmaija is almost certainly being forced to engage in sex work in the brothels of India, like thousands of other young Nepali girls her age each year. The rate of HIV infection is high, as is suicide and unwanted pregnancy amongst these girls.
As Fulmaija’s likely fate sunk in, I began to think about how any society could place so little value on women that things like this were just allowed to happen…
When I say “began to think”, I began to think a lot. Then I began to research. A lot. What I found, was that many of the developing world’s problems are, so some degree, a result of gender inequality. If we could just find a way to empower women, stories like Fulmaija’s wouldn’t exist to be told.
Opportunities for empowerment are everywhere. If we lived in a world where young gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people could all feel empowered by their sexualities right from the get go, we would greatly eliminate the appalling rates of depression, suicide and alienation experienced by members of our community.
Right now, I’m studying a Bachelor of Justice at Queensland University of Technology, due to be completed in the middle next year. What I love most about my degree is that almost every unit is looking at ways to empower those who are disadvantaged. Hopefully, I’ll go from this on to do my honours year looking at human trafficking intervention practices, and then maybe a PhD after that.
For the moment, Pinnacle is empowering me to make this happen. I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it feels to have the support of the Foundation behind me. To start this semester not worrying about how I was going to find the extra money for textbooks, or how I was going to manage to nab one of the university’s highly elusive shared PC’s to work on during the day was an enormous relief. More exciting that this though, is knowing that I am part of a generation of GLBTIQ young people who Pinnacle will continue to empower.
By Harriet Horsfall