Global Citizen Festival 2014: The Finale to UNGA and the Road Ahead

At the end of the 69th session of the United National General Assembly (UNGA), one message rang clear: there is much more work to be done. Luckily, we are at a time of great momentum, where youth voices are speaking louder than ever, demanding their most basic human rights and a seat a the table to develop the post-2015 development agenda.

On Saturday, the third installment of the Global Citizen Festival was held on Central Park’s Great Lawn, attracting around 60,000 attendees. Created by the Global Poverty Project, the festival’s mission – to end global poverty by 2030 – is shared by attendees, as ticketholders must earn their spot through online activism such as sending tweets, signing petitions, or sending Facebook messages.

Find more Global Citizen Festival photos on our Flickr

This year delivered not only with big name performances – Jay Z, No Doubt, Carrie Underwood, the Roots, Fun., Tiesto – but with powerful speeches and political announcements from world dignitaries and President Barack Obama (pre-recorded). Celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Dianna Agron, and Zachary Quinto shared the stage with Queen Silvia of Sweden, Prime Minister Narenda Modi of India, Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway to speak of global poverty, and epidemics like Ebola, HIV, poor sanitation, and access to clean water.

In partnership with the World Bank, the festival has helped commit $2.9 billion to save 500,000 lives by 2015, part of the World Bank’s global pledge of $15 billion to improve sanitation and access to clean water. Leaders from Sweden, India, and Norway also added to the pledges throughout the evening.

The Global Citizen Festival capped a week where more than 140 world leader converged at the United Nations to discuss climate change, partnerships, the empowerment of women, and which targets will replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015. And while it was certainly a celebration, it did not take more than a few moments in the audience to recognize that much more work lay ahead.

The crowd – majority young people – could be found sitting, texting, or talking when speakers were on stage, often only paying attention when musicians were performing. In fact, some speeches and announcements were barely audible as the audience turned their attention off stage. The words, “Ladies and gentlemen, President Barack Obama…” was greeted with boos and sighs when it was realized the President was not in attendance but rather giving a pre-recorded speech. Even celebrity and activist Olivia Wilde noted, “no one’s paying attention,” when trying to speak of the 22 million children who don’t have access to vaccinations.

Find more Global Citizen Festival photos on our Flickr

In order to be the generation the end global poverty, there is more work ahead. We must go beyond Facebook posts, re-tweets, and online pledges and commit to real activism. While visual petitions like the #ShowYourSelfie campaign have proven to be successful at raising awareness for world leaders that the needs and rights of young people must be a priority in the post-2015 agenda, we must engage youth even more to become active beyond their mobile phone or laptops. We must look to the powerful young leaders who are out there raising their voices with inspiring ideas to end poverty and ensure a brighter future for the next generation. Rather than be accused of “slacktivism”, young people must continue to stand up for what they deserve and want in their future. Theirs is the only voice that can inspire real change amongst policymakers and world leaders. As was a common saying at UNGA, “Nothing about us without us!”

Raise your voice for sustainable development with these resources:

If You Treasure It, Measure It: #Commit2Deliver for Women and Girls

No country sends its soldiers to war to protect their country without seeing to it that they will return safely, and yet mankind for centuries has been sending women to battle to renew the human resource without protecting them. -Fred Sai, former President of the International Planned Parenthood Federation

Pregnancy is the one of the leading causes of death for girls aged 15-19 in developing countries. Maternal and child mortality remains a big problem for many countries in Africa with young women even more vulnerable. However, almost all maternal deaths can be prevented, as evidenced by the huge disparities found between the richest and poorest countries. The lifetime risk of maternal death in industrialized countries is 1 in 4,000 in comparison to 1 in 51 in countries classified as ‘least developed.’

Why We Cannot Wait

Mothers are the cornerstones of healthy societies. Not only do they give physical birth to new life, they give moral and intellectual guidance to children who will become productive members of society. A society where mothers are not valued and protected is is one that will slowly diminish. Through prioritizing the welfare of mothers a ripple effect occurs for the health of newborns and children.

Time for Action is – NOW!

Maternal health is a matter of life and survival. This issue needs to be addressed from a rights based approach falling under the broader scope of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Citizens need to hold governments accountable for the availability, accessibility, affordability and quality of health services available for women and youth by ensuring:

  • Universal access to comprehensive sexual reproductive health and rights including modern contraceptive services for all young people regardless of sexual orientation, sex, race, ethnicity and geographic location
  • Access to safe and affordable, quality, nondiscriminatory, stigma free, comprehensive safe abortion care and post abortion care
  • Universal access to evidence based, age-appropriate context specific comprehensive sexuality education that enables adolescent and young people to understand and make informed decisions about their sexuality and plan their lives.

As Heads of State continue the discussion around a transformative post-2015 development agenda, it is critical that African governments galvanize political will, mobilize resources and prioritize maternal health in the next development framework. Then and only then, will we have future that we are proud to present to future generations.

Cover photo credit: hdptcar, Flick Creative Commons

The Experience Of An Inexperienced Man: Looking Back on The Menstrual Hygiene Day Campaign, 2014

Written by Ephraim Kisangala

World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2014 was the first of its kind and celebrated by more than one hundred organisations world over. Being a member of Friends of IRISE-KIU Western Campus (FOI), I was privileged to have learnt about this subject prior to the day. We discussed in depth the issue of menstruation, activities we wanted for the day and also got training on making reusable sanitary pads.

I do not remember when I first knew that women menstruate, but I am pretty sure it was during one of the biology lessons in high school. The lessons were plain, explaining just the science and cycle and nothing more. Comments on painful periods, cultural practices, menstrual hygiene or management were almost unheard of in class.

The campaign started on a high note as the entire team was eager to engage in activities aimed at empowering and educating the community on breaking the silence around menstruation. The FOI team consisted of several other student bodies including Federation of African Medical Students’ Associations (FAMSA) and Kampala International University Students’ Academic Forum (KIUMSAF). The fear and the silence that usually surrounds the topic seemed to have been replaced by the concern for the poor girl who misses school, knows nothing about menstruation, and uses dirty rags, leaves, cotton or anything else they could find.

Image c/o Irise International
Image c/o Irise International

Despite this prior engagement with the issue of menstruation and all that I had learnt from being involved in Friends of IRISE, I was not prepared for all the lessons from Menstrual Hygiene Day. The FOI group started the preparation for the May 28th celebrations by engaging students on social media, creating school education programmes, making reusable pads, and hosting a community day complete with a school marching band.

As we embarked on the social media campaign on Facebook and WhatsApp, I did not expect to learn as much as I did. The responses to my posts, articles I read and activities in which I participated opened up a completely different dimension on the topic.

The first comment to strike me was asked by a female doctor in response to one of my Facebook posts:

“Ephraim, won’t you relent?”

This response triggered a memory of my mother’s experience of menstruation. Back when she was younger she suffered from menorrhagia and periods that were often irregular, heavy, very painful and scary. Not even medical workers understood her situation, thereby offering little support. She does not remember attending school during those awful days and always wished periods never existed.

Periods were literally a curse even when I was an adult working. Thank God, I am past that.” – My Mother

A friend also surprised me saying, “The only regret I have for being a woman is my period.” She had sought medical attention for the excessive bleeding during menstruation that was affecting her job and lifestyle.

In another article on, a disgusted lady wrote a letter to the manager of Always saying, “Are you kidding me? Does your brain really think happiness – actual smiling is possible during a menstrual period? Unless you are a freak.” She promised never to buy the Always pads because of the words, “Have a Happy Period” on its packaging.

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Image c/o Irise International

Back at the medical school, the WhatsApp chat page had only a few active females throughout the campaign. Meanwhile, the male students dominated the events and activities in preparation for Menstrual Hygiene Day. The organizing committee was also mainly male except for a handful of female students, including our fantastic chair Buddu Atwiine. The pupils in one of the primary schools were quite disappointed with the gender imbalance and even inquired why the males would go to teach menstrual hygiene without females.

After the fantastic day was over and I had some time to reflect, I began to feel that you can never truly comprehend the magnitude of challenges an African girl faces when it comes to menstruation, be it talk or the process, if you are not female.

At the end of the day, we in East Africa must come up with solutions for the following challenges:

  • The deeply rooted culture and taboos in Africa making talk about the menstruation difficult for everyone.
  • The stigma surrounding menstruation still keeps many females from disclosing their challenges that would otherwise be solved.

I believe menstruation is normal and every woman has the right experience her periods with dignity. I am hopeful we can achieve this in Africa and around the world.



ephraimEphraim is a final year medical student at Kampala International University (KIU) and is currently the President of the Federation of African Medical Students’ Associations (FAMSA). He is also involved in several other organisations in different capacities including Friends of IRISE KIU; Uganda Christian Medical Fellowship- Students’ Chapter; Bushenyi Integrated Rural Development (BIRD). He is also a member of the KIU-GRADUATE TRACKING TECHNICAL WORK GROUP supported by MEPI (Medical Education Partnership Initiative). He is very passionate about identifying ways in which medical students can act as key players in community transformation.

Girls’ Globe speaks with Nick Kristof!

This morning Elisabeth Epstein and I had the privilege to speak with New York Times journalist, author and activist Nicholas Kristof in an interactive Google+ Hangout. In their new book, A Path Appears, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn highlight powerful stories of people who are making a difference. The book shares courageous stories from young people working to combat trafficking, illiteracy, poor education and a myriad of other issues around the world.

During the Hangout, Nick shared the inspiration behind this new project as well as the lessons they have learned from years of investing in women, girls and international development. In this engaging Hangout, Nick answered questions from the virtual audience, those watching live and tweeting their questions using the hashtag #AskNick. Nick challenged young people to get involved with existing organizations working to improve the lives of women and girls around the world.

Did you miss the G+ Hangout? Check out the Storify recap.

Don’t miss all of our engaging 2014 UNGA week video interviews.

Fighting Maternal and Infant Mortality in Somaliland

Edna Adan Post1
Students at Edna Adan Hospital

This week, the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) convenes in New York City to examine 20 years of actions taken by governments to improve people’s lives and address population issues. The Head of State reaffirmed ‘their commitments to place people at the centre of development.’ Africa has 12% of the global population and accounts for half of all maternal and infant deaths. Somaliland, located in the Horn of Africa and with a population of 3.5 million has one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world.

Almost all maternal and newborn deaths are preventable. Millions of lives can be saved if women have access to skilled and trained midwives during pregnancy and childbirth.

A report released by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank states ‘substantial global progress has been made in reducing child deaths, approximately 17,000 children under age five continue to die every day in 2013.’ Progress is slow and the Millennium Development Goal 4 target risks being missed at the global level.

Here are some facts:

• Under-five year old mortality rates have dropped by 49%, however despite the progress, many countries still have very high rates—particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, home to all 12 countries with an under-five mortality rate of 100 deaths or more per 1,000 live births.

• According to the World Health Organization, approximately 800 women still die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day and 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.

• In 2012, UNICEF reported Somaliland as one of the worst maternal mortality rate in the world: 1,000 – 1,400 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births with an infant mortality rate is 73 per 1,000 births while the under-five mortality is approximately 117/1,000.

There is good news.

Midwifery students work tirelessly to help mothers and their babies in Somaliland.
Midwifery students work tirelessly to help mothers and their babies in Somaliland.

Though the future is brighter, there is still a lot to be done to achieve  the Millennium Development Goals. We all need to fight for change. In conjunction with the UNGA meetings, a major campaign–effectively entitled, Zero Mothers Die was launched to reduce maternal and child mortality and increase healthcare access through mobile technology.

Every woman’s pregnancy must be considered special. We must invest in e-health and women for greater impact. No baby should die because the right information was not available. -Christine Kaseba, First Lady of Zambia

Training midwives will greatly increase the chances of survival for both mother and child during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Approximately, 400 midwives have been trained at the Edna Adan University Hospital, and recently, the Edna Adan Hospital Foundation (EAHF) awarded scholarships to 50 Somaliland women to be trained as post-basic midwives. The grant will be used to fund examinations, clinical training, supplies, and transportation.

The United Nations Fund For Population (UNFPA) as well as individual donors and private charities support Edna to train Midwives over the years. Edna remains determined to reach her goal of training 1000 midwives and return them to their communities where they will be able to save the lives of mothers and infants far into the future.

The mission of EAHF is to provide all Somaliland women the opportunity for healthy pregnancies and safe childbirths, to provide all infants with the healthy start they deserve, and to eliminate the practice of FGM. Support from people like you will allow us to train and empower local women to serve as midwives and, more importantly, to save the lives of women and families across Somaliland. For more information about our organization, please visit:

We can’t have a post-2015 agenda without SRHR!

In 2000, the creators of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) completely overlooked sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), a mistake that, if repeated, would cripple the dreams of millions of young girls and women for years and generations to come.

Access to SRHR enables individuals to choose whether, when, and with whom to engage in sexual activity; to choose whether and when to have children; and to access the information and means to do so. To some, these rights may be considered an everyday reality. However, that is not the case for millions of young people in the world – particularly girls and women.

On Tuesday night, I had the fantastic opportunity to listen to some of the foremost global leaders speak on behalf of ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights in the post-2015 agenda. The benefits of ensuring SRHR are society wide and inevitably translate into improved education, economic growth, health, gender equality, and even environment.



“At my high school, you would be expelled if found with a condom.” – Samuel Kissi, former President, Curious Minds Ghana

When girls are healthy and their rights are fulfilled, they have the opportunity to attend school, learn life skills, and grow into empowered young women. Wherever girls’ SRHR are ignored, major educational barriers follow. Child marriage and early pregnancy are major contributors to school dropout rates. In South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, girls are married before age 18 at an alarming 50 percent and 40 percent respectively. And in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of adolescent pregnancies occur in marriage, it is safe to assume that not all those sexual acts were consensual and not all those pregnancies were planned.

Economic Benefits

“Initially I used to oppose family planning, but now I fully support. I support it because my wife has more time to work and earn money.” – The Honorable Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Minster of Foreign Affairs for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, sharing the story of an Ethiopian man’s changed opinion regarding the importance of SRHR

Protecting SRHR not only saves lives and empowers people, but it also leads to significant economic gains for individuals and for the community as a whole. As previously stated, ensuring SRHR helps to decrease school dropout rates and, as a result, leads to a more productive and healthy workforce as each additional year of schooling for girls increases their employment opportunities and future earnings by nearly 10 percent.

Broader Health Agenda

“We cannot eliminate new HIV infections without providing SRHR services to women so they can make informed decisions to protect themselves and their children in the future. Yes, we will end the AIDS epidemic, but first we need to respect the dignity and the equality of women and young girls.” – Mahesh Mahalingam, Director in the Programme Branch of UNAIDS

Access to SRHR guarantees quality family planning services, counseling and health information. These services are critical, particularly because women are often victims of gender-based violence and sexual assault and thereby face greater risks for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. Failing to secure and uphold SRHR dooms women and girls with an increased risk of unsafe, non-consensual sex and maternal mortality.

Gender Equality

“How can you control your life if you cannot control your fertility?” – Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator

When a woman can easily plan her family, she is more equipped to participate in the economy alongside her male colleagues. When the sexual rights of a woman or girl are fulfilled, she will experience decreased rates of sexual violence and enjoy a healthy relationship with a respectful partner. When a woman or girl does not fall victim to child marriage and early pregnancy, she can stay in school and achieve anything she puts her mind to.


“The woman continues to bring life, to bring up the next generation, to stand before you and say, ‘I am ready to embrace my rights and to deliver a better planet to humanity.’” – Joy Phumaphi, former Minister of Health, Botswana; Chair, Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health


A 2012 study found that community water and sanitation projects designed and run by women are more sustainable and effective than those that are not. Similarly, women produce 60 to 80 percent of food in developing countries and, with the economic and educational gains that coincide with secured SRHR, a woman is better equipped to effectively manage her land.

The post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals will not happen without SRHR being addressed. So far, the world has failed to recognize that SRHR are equally as fundamental to global development as finance and trade. We can no longer afford to view SRHR as a taboo or promiscuous topic. When 90% of first births in low-income countries are to girls under 18; when the leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 is pregnancy and childbirth; when two-thirds of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa are among adolescent girls; and when 200 million women want to use family planning methods but lack access, the young girls and women of the world do not have a promiscuity problem – they have a human rights problem.