Girl Up’s global movement has always been led by girls. So, this #WomensDay, we’re highlighting the stories of amazing girl leaders from Nebraska to Rwanda who are making progress for SDG 5 to help achieve gender equality and empower girls and women across the globe.
Through action, empowerment, advocacy, and girl power, these stories show the many ways to get involved in achieving gender equality.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a series of markers for important actions that will create a stronger, healthier, more equal world by the year 2030. As women and girls make up over 50% of the world’s population, we feel that SDG 5 is critically important to unlocking all of the SDGs, and shifting the world toward a sustainable and prosperous path.
“Today and every day, we encourage girls and women to celebrate their achievements, empower each other, and keep fighting for gender equality. As leaders, we’ve learned that women who work together are capable of tackling any kind of challenge and that we are stronger together,” say Cissy, Catherine, and Jocelyn, leaders of one of the oldest Girl Up Campus Clubs at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
1. Martine, Breaking STEM Stereotypes in Rwanda
Girl Up Club members are making progress toward SDG 5 all over the world, often using technology to promote the empowerment of girls and women. Rwanda, a country where women make up over half of the members of parliament, set the stage for the first ever WiSci Girls STEAM Camp, an educational program designed to help girls overcome barriers in accessing science, technology, engineering, arts & design, and mathematics (or STEAM) education. In Rwanda, over 100 students from the U.S. and 8 countries in Africa came together for over 200 hours of programming, classroom trainings, mentorship, and connections to inspiring mentors and supported travel and logistics for the entire camp.
Girl Up Club Leader Martine lives in Rwanda and attended the first ever WiSci camp.
“Women and girls have the ability of directing themselves into something that can take them somewhere that they have never been before. We see today how there are women who have proven very successful in various STEM fields. We need to ensure that more and more women have the opportunity to pursue these fields and realize their potential.”
Beyond the WiSci camp, Martine is working with her Girl Up Club to end all forms of discrimination against girls and women in Rwanda. “We get outside in different communities to see how girls are being treated,” says Martine. “More than anything, I’ve been empowered, and I’ve learned how to advocate for people who are in need of help.”
2. How Thelma and her Dad Federico Are Promoting Girls’ Education in Guatemala
In order to truly achieve gender equality, men and boys need to be engaged in the process. We know that there are men who are supporting women and girls from behind the scenes, and we wanted to shine a spotlight on some of the incredible and important work of men and boys.
In 2016, Girl Up traveled to Guatemala to deliver bicycles through our SchoolCycle initiative. While in Guatemala, we met an incredible father-daughter duo, Thelma and Federico. Thelma loves math, and has big plans for the future. “I want to study nursing so I can know what it means to help others in my community,” she said.
Federico emphasized how important it was to him that his daughter was able to access her education quickly and safely. He brought up his fears for the dangers Thelma could face walking an hour each way to get to school:
“It’s important for girls to go to school because as a father, I acknowledge her right to go to school. She needs to know about the importance of studying and having a brighter future. My message to all the fathers out there is that girls should go to school so they can be ready in life. Not all the parents who live in this area, like me, got the chance to study, but that can all change with girls having the opportunity to go to school.”
Girl Up Teen Advisor Alissa adds, “As young leaders in these Clubs, we have members who are boys and we teach them about gender equality. They get to learn what we’re doing and they don’t feel excluded- then they get to take what they learned and bring it to their friends. It’s a chain reaction.”
3. Ina: Our Mothers, Grandmothers Paved the Way for Today’s “Avalanche of Change”
One key indicator in achieving SDG 5 is ensuring equal opportunities for leadership at all levels for women. The Tech Tigers, a Girl Up Club at Mercy High School in Connecticut, is one such Club that is creating real change to directly benefit girls and women in its community. By raising their voices and demonstrating their support of STEM fields, the Tech Tigers have helped the school go from having only one computer class, to having six computer class, six new science classes, five STEAM clubs, and annual participation in the Physics Olympics, National Math competitions, and more.
“Even at this small, local level, we all have promises to keep,” says Girl Up Missouri Club Leader Flynn. “We owe it to our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, our great grandmothers, and all those women fighting on the bigger stage to support them locally and at the grassroots level.”
Ina is a Girl Up Club leader in Nebraska who knew that she needed to take action within her own school to see change. “I decided I was no longer going to be stay silent in the face of so many problems; I started a Girl Up Club, and just within five short months hundreds of us Nebraskan girls have teamed up together to fight against these issues and for a brighter future. It’s clear to me that when our girl power is unleashed we can start an avalanche of change.”
4. In Liberia, Patience Encourages Girls and Women to Enroll in Comprehensive Sexual Education Programs
Access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all girls and women, no matter where they are, is very important to achieving SDG 5. That’s why Girl Up funds a comprehensive health program run by United Nations agencies in Liberia. These girl-friendly health programs work with hardest-to-reach adolescent girls to ensure that they are able to earn an income, stay healthy and combat harmful practices like gender-based violence. The health programs also treat victims of violence and female genital mutilation.
Patience is one of the teen girls enrolled in these programs. She was 13 when she had her first child, and had two more children after that. She expressed the difficulty she faced in caring for them while trying to attend school. Now she is 19, and since entering a Girl Up supported UNICEF program that teaches comprehensive sex education, she hasn’t had another child. She says, “The program changed me. When I came here they taught me how to take care of my body and I took family planning classes.”
Patience is one of over 800 girls who have benefited from the program and take their lessons beyond the classroom and into their communities. They encourage other girls and women in their community to enroll in UNICEF’s programming and share the important learnings to help other girls avoid adolescent pregnancy.
5. Teen Advisors Make Progress on SDG 5 through their High School Clubs
No progress can be made in achieving global gender equality without the involvement and inclusion of adolescent girls. Girl Up’s Teen Advisor program brings together high school girls from around the world who come together to fuel and spread the global movement for gender equality.
“We’re inspired by each other,” says Paola, a Girl Up Teen Advisor who lives in Mexico. “As Teen Advisors we grow as a person and as a girl, together.” Teen Advisor Co-Chair Lavanya adds, “I think that Girl Up is unique because us girls have a lot of say and a platform to implement our own ideas. That’s important– when you have ownership on projects at all levels,”
Rachel, Co-Chair of the Teen Advisor program from Florida, says, “We’re all affected by SDG 5, and we’re all actively trying to achieve it.”