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'President' For a Day, Schoolgirl in Paraguay Shines Light on Violence, Equality

Paraguayan schoolgirls carry flags as they wear sashes a day before the inauguration of President-elect Fernando Lugo's government in Asuncion August 14, 2008.

Nara, an 11-year-old schoolgirl in Paraguay, has optimistic dreams of becoming a engineer, and dark fears of sexual attacks that have befallen several of her young friends.

This week, she gets to do something about it. She will serve as Paraguay's symbolic president on Thursday, part of a campaign for the United Nations' International Day of the Girl, and plans to talk about combating sexual violence and promoting equality.

"My example for other girls as president is never give up and be confident in yourself. It's not just the boys who can achieve things," Nara told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "I would like that girls are treated as equals," she said. “Men always leave us behind and place barriers in our way."

Nara's symbolic presidency is part of the Girls Get Equal campaign of the child rights organization Plan International, which asked that her surname not be revealed for her protection. The campaign will feature more than a thousand girls taking over jobs around the world, from executives at Google and Facebook to ministry posts and local councils, Plan International said.

"It's girls turn to take the lead - to be seen, heard and valued as equals," Anne Birgitte Albrectsen, chief executive of Plan International, said in a statement.

A 2017 global survey of 30,000 young people by the World Economic Forum found more than half of young women felt their views were not heard or not taken seriously.

Yet more women in leadership drives economic growth, according to U.N. findings, and ensuring equal participation in politics by 2030 is one of the U.N.’s global goals.

At current rates, it will take some 50 years to achieve parity among men and women in political participation, according to the U.N.

Only about one in four parliamentarians worldwide is a woman, while fewer than one in five government ministers is female, the U.N. says.

Sexual violence is one of the biggest problems holding girls back in Paraguay, Nara said.

"The thing that's most difficult for girls here is the abuse, the harassment, the rapes," she said.

She said she has several friends who had been raped, including one girl raped by a shopkeeper about five months ago.

"Girls feel trapped inside themselves because of the violence they have experienced," Nara said.

Paraguay's high rates of teenage pregnancy is also a major concern, she said.

One in five of all pregnancies in Paraguay occurs among teenagers, and many of those among girls under age 14 are the result of rape, campaigners say.