Meet the Inspirational Nargis Shirazi!

Nargis Shirazi
Nargis Shirazi

Nargis is one of the founders of WO-MAN Foundation and works as the Project Manager for the It Takes Two campaign. She has been awarded The Young Achievers Award 2010 and The Most Inspirational Woman Award 2012 by CEDA International for her fight in the advocacy for health equity and social justice. Recently, she was quoted by UNAIDS on her concept of power, space and change. She is an outspoken advocate for increasing youth access to family planning and for using creative channels to educate and promote it. Melinda Gates recently mentioned Nargis as one of the most inspiring women she met in 2013.

We caught up with Nargis and had the chance to ask her a few questions about her life, her work, and her inspiration.

Q: Describe your work with the WO-MAN Foundation and the FRESH Campaign.

The WO-MAN Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that works with youth on sexual reproductive health and rights education (SRHR). Together with my colleagues Amos Zikusooka and Dr. William Lubega, I founded the WO-MAN Foundation in November 2012. WO-MAN’s team consists of young, passionate, and creative people who focus on empowering youth with skills and opportunities to not only change their lives, but the lives of others. WO-MAN uses creative arts and entertainment to teach lessons on sexual education. In the future, WO-MAN aims to launch the “Zero To Hero” program, a social enterprise with a mission to to give youths living in poverty an alternative to harmful sexual behavior.

Additionally, I launched the FRESH (Fully and Richly Empowered About Sexual Health) campaign, a project that uses social media to address the unmet need for youth friendly SRHR information services for urban and slum youth in Uganda. Through the use of a newly established youth hotline and various social media platforms, the FRESH campaign allows Ugandan youth to simultaneously learn about SRHR while also being provided a platform to share stories and to discuss issues affecting young people’s sexual health.

FRESHCampaign (FreshCampaign) on Twitter.clipular

Q:  Is there a woman who has inspired you in your life and work?

Definitely. Wangari Mathai – the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Kenya – has greatly inspired me. She led the Green Belt Movement, a movement that changed the lives of rural Kenyan women by planting more than 20 million trees at farms, schools and church compounds. Wangari Maathai is internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights and environmental conservation. She was bold and strong and I am inspired by her community leadership. It was not about Wangari, it was about the people! This taught me that leadership is more than just a position. It is about inspiring communities to own the responsibility for change.

Q: What does ’empowered’ mean to you?

To me, empowered means my having authority and power to do something! I remember Jill Sheffield, President of Women Deliver, once told me that empowerment is not all about people giving you opportunities – it is about embracing opportunities. I now say when opportunity presents itself, it is up to you to embrace it. Empowerment is about embracing opportunity and the power to make something happen. It is taking action when given an opportunity to change the world!

Q: What are some of the challenges to raising awareness about sexual health?

Some challenges to raising awareness about sexual health are culture, religion, upbringing, myths and misconceptions about sexual health and gender.

Q: What suggestions do you have for our readers who want to make a difference in the world but don’t know where to start?

My advice for young people is that change starts with YOU! We do not have to wait for the government to act when we can be the catalysts for change in our communities. We need to stop seeing ourselves as the leaders of the future and begin to see ourselves as the leaders of TODAY! Changing the world does not begin with the world, it begins with you!

Follow Nargis Shirazi and the FRESH Campaign on Twitter at @NargisShirazi and @FRESHCampaign and vote for Nargis to be awarded the Women Deliver C-Exchange Seed Grant!

For more stories about inspirational women, be sure to follow #WomenInspire on Twitter all month long.

Fawzia Koofi: Leading Afghanistan into a New Era

Image Courtesy of DangerDan22.Wordpress.com
Image Courtesy of DangerDan22.Wordpress.com

In third grade, my teacher taught our class a song where the lyrics stated all the U.S. Presidents in order, from George Washington to Bill Clinton. To this day, I still know (and occasionally sing) the song, with every election adding the newest incoming male U.S. President. Unfortunately, throughout the United States’ 239 year history, the U.S. has never experienced leadership from a female President. However, that is not the case in the rest of the world.  Setting extraordinary examples, women leaders serve in the country’s highest office in Liberia, Switzerland, Argentina, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Brazil, Kosovo, Malawi, San Marino, and South Korea. Recently, a campaign has begun supporting a female Presidential candidate in the most unlikely of countries – Afghanistan.

Running for President of Afghanistan in 2014, Fawzia Koofi’s life has been a constant struggle. Left in the Afghan heat to die as an infant, Koofi’s mother believed death as a more sympathetic option than suffering through life as a female in Afghanistan.  Eventually changing her mind and rescuing Koofi from the scalding outdoor temperatures, Koofi’s mother promised herself that no harm would ever come to her child again. Making good on her promise, Koofi eventually became the first female in her family to attend school and, later, a member of Parliament serving as Afghanistan’s first female Parliament speaker.

Surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban, Koofi continues to campaign for the 2014 Presidential seat. Because traditional Islamic culture views women as property, Koofi’s courageous campaign and leadership stirs tension among some Afghans – particularly the Taliban. Resigning herself to the idea that she might, one day, be killed by the Taliban, Koofi continues fighting for women’s rights and is undeterred on her journey to becoming the first female President of Afghanistan.

For more information on Fawzia Koofi and her Presidential campaign, please visit the following:

Fawzia Koofi Campaign Website

Fawzia Koofi’s book, The Favored Daughter: One Woman’s Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future

“Will Fawzia Koofi Be Afghanistan’s First Female President?” – The Daily Beast

WATCH: Jon Stewart Interviews Fawzia Koofi