As I dig into my heart for the inspiration that keeps it beating, and find the women and girls who stand behind that inspiration, I realize that many of them do not have well-known names or faces. Most of these women and girls do not have their words shared in quotes on Pinterest or Instagram. Many of the women and girls that inspire me are ordinary, but with ambitions and dreams, courage and persistence, love and passion that make them stand out from the crowd.
Women and girls are in many ways pillars of communities around the world. Time and time again, we proclaim that if women are empowered, communities will be more equal, just, peaceful and healthy.
When we invest in women, we invest in the world, because there is no better way to ensure development than empowering women and girls.
But we must look behind the phrases of women’s empowerment and development investments to truly understand the power that lies in the hands of women and girls, and for them to inspire us to make small strides towards changing the world.
The young woman from Somalia
In the middle of my workshop on maternal health and sustainable development, she walks out of the classroom. Her peers are from several different countries, some born in Sweden, some not. She is from Somalia, one of the countries that I had used as an example for the poor status of maternal health and the high indices of maternal mortality. I catch her in the hallway after my session and she apologizes for leaving. She says that she couldn’t hold back her tears, as she knew so many family members and friends who had lost their lives due to pregnancy and childbirth. She was frustrated at the level of care that was given at hospitals and clinics in her homeland. “But,” she said, “now, I know what I am going to do.”
I am going to get educated and become a midwife. Then, I am going to go back to Somalia and change it!”
I will always remember those words, from a young woman who herself fled from insecurity and became a mother of her own in a new country. Her dreams, strength, and courage inspires me.
The ambitious girls from Syria and Afghanistan
Conflict stricken Syria is forcing millions fleeing for their lives, and the lives of their families. A whole generation risks to lack education. Afghanistan, one of the most insecure countries in the world, also drives children and families to abandon places they once called home. It is a country where the strides that have been made for the empowerment of women are balancing on a thin thread and under constant threat.
The girls I meet in the middle school classroom are all new to the country. They don’t yet speak the language, and unless they’re from the same country or region, they aren’t able to communicate verbally with each other. I ask them about education. What does it mean to them?
They speak with anger, persistence and passion as they describe the inequalities that they have fled from. Some of the girls had never set foot in a classroom before they came to this new country. They are all eager to learn and they are all determined to get an education. A 15-year-old girl from Afghanistan said, without hesitation as she stood strong:
In my country I was not allowed to go to school, but now I can. School means everything to me, in school my future is created.
These empowered girls inspire me. They’re dreams and ambitions are large and I truly believe that they will change the world.
The surgeon who saves lives with a smile
Throughout my conversation with her, she smiled. Her warmth was infectious as we spoke about her work, to repair and heal girls and women who have suffered from obstetric fistula, the devastating injury due to obstructed labor. She is from Ethiopia, and she is a surgeon who saves lives. She is one of the best in her field, and she works hard, repairing countless women every year. The life she has chosen is one of passion, as the prestige and monetary yields are low, but the rewards of seeing women restored is what keeps her smiling.
This woman, who works in the heat, often with inadequate resources to conduct these kinds of surgeries, is an inspiration. Her warmth inspires me.
Who Inspires You?
Share your stories of women who inspire you with Girls’ Globe and Johnson & Johnson this month, and read the stories that we will be publishing here throughout the month!
- Join the conversation using #WomenInspire and tweet us a story of a woman who inspires you! We will collect these stories to spread the inspiration that women and girls give us.
- Don’t miss the Twitter chat led by @JNJGlobalHealth on Women Who Inspire and the change that is being made improve the health and well-being of women and girls around the world. March 11, 1pm ET. Join using #WomenInspire.