Stories of Girls’ Resistance


““I have to live up to this certain expectation. I have to try and be like a mother to my little siblings and I’m not so much older than them.” ”

Hanifa's Story

By Ashlee Cox
Hanifa is proof that one voice can make a difference as she works to inspire others to think for themselves and uphold their own boundaries.


Hanifa has found her voice and with it the ability to say ‘no’, while encouraging her loved ones to stand up for themselves and resist the peer pressures of getting involved with drugs and having sex before they are ready.

Born in the tropical Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago, Hanifa, the second of four children told the Girls Narrative Project that she stopped being a girl at the age of eleven, when her mother moved out and she found herself taking on more responsibilities around the home and with her siblings.

These added responsibilities, she said became some of her biggest challenges as she felt as if she was the one trying to hold the household together, keeping her younger sister and brother in line so they didn’t  ‘ do down the wrong path’, all the while feeling as if she was an outcast of the family.

When asked why these responsibilities made her feel as if her girlhood had ended, she replied, “Because it was just me, my dad and my big sister and my little siblings. So me and my sister had to buck up and try to wash wares, wash clothes, clean up the whole house, and try to help all of the little siblings with their homework. When Daddy’s out at work or hustling we had to cook and things, so that brought us into early womanhood”.

For Hanifa, who went from being spoilt and feeling as if she was her father’s favourite person  as a young child to coping with what she termed a  ‘dysfunctional family’, where she is constantly criticized by  her stepmother, her father is rarely home and she feels disconnected from the rest of her family, life has become in a word, ‘ stressful’.

“My home is very dysfunctional. My father is rarely home. My stepmother does nothing but criticize me. My sister, I used it to look up to her but not anymore because she – I don’t know where her state of mind is at right now, and I’m like the little mother in the house, because I have to see about my two little siblings – and I have to do my homework and do my chores and their chores and everything. And if I get time to do mine – most cases I never get to do my homework,” she said.

“It’s very stressful with school, chores at home, my siblings, and how I’m a teenager. My teenage life right now is very, very stressful. Financial problems, heartbreaks, them depending on me to be perfect. Which I can’t be all the time, I make mistakes. But some people, my father and my siblings, they don’t accept that I make mistakes. So it stresses me out,” she reiterated.

Hanifa explained that when she tries to do her own homework before helping her younger siblings, they will complain to her father that she doesn’t want to help them and that she said, usually resulted in her having to stop what she is doing and go help them first.

When asked about her elder sister, she noted that her relationship with her, at the time of this interview was strained due to several factors, including how she was always compared to her and felt that she could never catch up and then when her sister became a teen mother at seventeen, she felt as if she had let her down and shattered the dreams they had built together.

“ I argue with her because for she being older, she’s not responsible as how I thought she would be. I used to look up to her for everything and she gone and got pregnant at seventeen. So that shattered like – we had dreams and goals – because of her I wanted to be a heart surgeon. And she wanted to be a brain surgeon. So we were planning our whole future together, but she come and get a child so I’m all by myself in my dream now,” she lamented.

While Hanifa used to be afraid of losing her family because of her outspoken nature, and one of her biggest fears of her parents separating came to pass, she nonetheless has a very strong support system in her best friends and in her mentor, whom she met through the Heroes Foundation .

She describes her mentor as a very openhearted, charismatic and easy to talk to person and credits her with being one of the few people she can tell her life story to and feel supported.

With the help of her support system, Hanifa now describes herself as a very intelligent and hard-working person who has overcome most of her anxieties and challenges from past situations.

For Hanifa resistance means having the ability to say ‘no’ and this is something that she is cultivating both in herself and inspiring within those close to her.

One example of this resistance was in her younger brother, who at a very young age said no to drugs, a phenomenon that truly amazed and impressed Hanifa, especially given what her little brother was exposed to daily.

“I can tell you about my little brother, people are saying he shouldn’t have because there’s pay after, but a man asked him to go out and buy weed from somebody, I was very shocked with my brother when he said no. He’s twelve now. Because all the boys in my community smoke, gamble, drink, and interfere with little girls… carry them on the roof and have adultery. So that is what he sees every day, and for him to say no, that means he has a different mindset from everybody, so that proved to me that I actually did something to shape him in that way,” she said.

“He refused to go and buy. I actually cried that day because I said – all that time that I talked to him I thought he wasn’t listening. Now that I know he was listening, I know that I accomplished something,” she revealed.

When asked how she thinks her power has evolved, she replied that she was very powerful, especially as she is still resisting the status quo of drugs and sex that she has grown up witnessing.

“I am very powerful. They say every voice can make a difference. My voice, I tell my friends to treat their body with respect. My friends are abstinent right now, they’re resisting sex until they are older. And none of my friends smoke”, she said.

“My mindset is very strong. I don’t want to be just like everybody, I want to be me. Just because I see other girls losing their virginity doesn’t mean I have to. I’m waiting until I reach eighteen. I resist sex at a young age, drugs,[and]  any gun activity,” she continued.

Hanifa admits that she sees young women her own age becoming pregnant, smoking or being beaten by their boyfriends and credits her mentor for helping her and the other girls at the Heroes Foundation by showing them the truth of real love and how it very much differs from abuse.

“She will often show us videos and clips about the different types of love and what is abuse, because I didn’t really know what was abuse. I thought abuse was just like hitting somebody. She expanded my mindset about abuse, so I’m very thankful for that,” she said.

Speaking more on the benefits of the Heroes Foundation, she explained that she has found solidarity and learnt more about how collective power can really change lives.

She revealed, “I thought it was just me facing these kinds of pressures, but in the Heroes Foundation when we open up to each other, I know that other girls go through the same thing and that made me feel at peace a little bit. We were talking about abuse and the stories they were telling, I kind of related to that and that made me know it’s not just me – there are others just like me out there”.

“The more voices that speak about a certain topic like abuse, the more ways other people can be aware. I really think that is a nice thing. More people should speak up. Say you and your friends get together and make a podcast or something and talk about abuse, people will listen, and people will share it, like on Instagram. When you see the IG-TV, I watch that a lot,” she said.

Hanifa Byer who is determined to finish school and achieve her dream of becoming a heart surgeon, revealed she wants multiple female Prime Ministers for Trinidad and Tobago and for people to be free to live a great life.

“I want everybody to be free. Do what they want, don’t follow the crowd. Don’t live up to anybody’s expectations. Be.” She said.

Artist Description

This image of Hanifa was created by Elizabeth Barrera, who explains their thoughts behind the illustration: I wanted to represent that Hanifa has had a lot of responsibilities since she was very young and took over the role of her mom when she left. On top of that in the neighborhood where she lived, there was a lot of peer pressure to take drugs and have sex as a young person.