Happy International Women’s Day! Today is a day to celebrate women’s achievements throughout history, and the next generation of leaders who are history in the making. Meet five of our young 2017 ChangeLeaders® working to eliminate the gender gap and create inclusive societies with equal opportunity for girls, youth and women around the world.
Growing up in Malawi, Ellen found it particularly upsetting to see young women her age, or even or much younger, forced out of school because of poverty.“I firmly believe that all women have the potential to lift themselves out of poverty, but that many are not given the opportunity.” -Ellen Chilemba Click To Tweet
Together with four other young women and armed with just $1,000, she launched Tiwale, a series of business education training workshops and a micro-loan program. When market conditions changed and some women defaulted on their loans, they knew they needed a new solution and opted to hire a local artist to teach tie-dying. In the past year, Tiwale women have become expert fabric tie-dyers, producing over 140 fabrics, 100 of which have been sold via Tiwale’s online store and at pop-up events. The sales have enabled Tiwale to give the women living stipends, cover their operation costs and buy land to build a women’s centre. Tiwale is now a registered community-based organization, supporting 150 women, including 40 who started their own small business, 66 learned tie-dyeing, and six are back in school through their grants.
Mary Grace Henry
Even from an early age attending an all-girls school in the United States, Mary realized girls around the world didn’t have the same opportunities to attend school as boys. At age 12, she decided she wanted to make a difference for one girl, but she didn’t have any money and had no way to get anywhere.“Educating a girl is a long-term commitment. I felt I had to somehow earn and generate the funds myself.” -Mary Grace Henry Click To Tweet
So Mary taught herself how to sew and began making hair accessories. After creating 50 headbands, she brought them to her school bookstore and within two days, they sold out. Fast-forward six and a half years: through the help of non-profit and retail partners, mentors, donations, grants and supporters, Reverse The Course currently sponsors 101 girls and has paid for 203 years of tuition so that girls can have dreams of their own too.
Sexual and Reproductive Health Pioneer
As a feminist, journalist by training, blogger and women’s rights activist from Cameroon who strongly believes that access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is a basic human right, Mallah has dedicated the past four years to founding United Vision, an organization working to fulfil the SRH needs of adolescents and young people. United Vision has developed the first-ever mobile app of its kind in Cameroon, called Ndolo360, that provides anonymous judgement-free education, information and services from peer educators and experts on SRH/HIV for young people. Available in two languages, Ndolo360 also provides young people with access to a database of nearby service providers and clinics who offer youth-friendly SRH services. United Vision is also leading a school-based peer-to-peer sexuality education program, which enables young people to communicate with their own peers on health issues, as they relate to life skills, communication and their own sexual health: “The sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people should never depend on how comfortable our governments are about it.”
Safaath Ahmed Zahir
After nearly nine years living abroad, Safaath returned to the Maldives to begin her job search, only to be questioned in most of her job interviews about if and when she was going to get married: “This manifestation of gender inequality that exists in the many spheres of our economy drove a passion in me to work as the Secretary General of Women on Boards (WOB),” a non-governmental organization (NGO) that advocates towards having more women in top hierarchy positions at all levels of the country. WOB is the first NGO in the Maldives to actively advocate for women in leadership and aims to inspire and empower the next generation women of Maldives by unleashing their economic power. “I can honestly say that WOB has allowed me to find myself and motivated me to achieve the extraordinary and the impossible.” Safaath intends to take her ambition a bit further by undertaking political leadership, believing that a better brighter Maldives will be built upon the backbone of equality and where development is seemingly endless.