Young #WomenInspire us to #InvestInGirls

Originally published on The Huffington Post’s Global Motherhood section

March is an exciting time to celebrate girls and women. Women’s History Month commemorates the pioneers of women’s rights and equality, past and present. International Women’s Day encourages us all to continue the fight for women’s rights around the world. And this week, the United Nations 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women revives our commitments to build a better future for girls and women everywhere.

This March, however, also marks a particularly critical time for women’s health and rights: For the first time in over a decade, we have an opportunity to shape a brand new global development agenda. The 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) generated unprecedented political will and funding for girls’ and women’s health and rights. Unfortunately though, the MDGs are quickly coming to an end just when we are beginning to gain momentum.

As we enter this next chapter, we must ensure that our tremendous progress toward women’s health and rights flourishes — not falters. We have an opportunity to share best practices, examine remaining challenges and contribute to a new set of goals that prioritize girls and women. One way of the best ways to imagine what the future of development truly looks like is to engage and listen to young women.

Young women — and young men — have innovative solutions and unlimited potential to improve girls’ and women’s health in their communities. But all too often, they do not have the means to turn their ideas into impact. Through an exciting new Initiative of the Women Deliver C-Exchange10 Young Leaders were selected from a pool of Women Deliver’s 100 Young Leaders to receive $5,000 seed grants for local girls’ and women’s health projects and campaigns. These projects are a part of an online voting competition that will allow the public to vote for the project they believe will have the greatest impact, and the winner will receive an additional $500 for his or her project.

Four of these C-Exchange grantees are themselves young women who inspire. They are fierce and savvy leaders, rising the ranks and paving the way to a brighter, more equitable future for girls and women in their communities and beyond. These powerful young leaders inspire us to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.

Cecilia García Ruiz will implement a project to help young Mexican mothers speak out about their sexual and reproductive health needs with the organization she works with in Mexico City, Espolea.

Chukwudera Bridget Okeke from Nigeria works with Concern Women International Development Initiative and will focus her work on reducing the burden of HIV/AIDS among female sex workers and their clients.

Maureen Anyango Oduor from Tanzania will launch “Plan at Hand Girl Empowerment Project,” which uses mobile technology to deliver reproductive health education and services to adolescent girls.

And finally, Nargis Shirazi will run her FRESH (Full and Richly Empowered About Sexual Health) Campaign with WO-MAN Foundation Uganda, inspiring creative solutions to improve the reproductive health of Uganda’s urban youth.

Due to increased investments in girls and women, Cecilia’s, Bridget’s, Maureen’s and Nargis’ work is undoubtedly improving the lives of girls and women from Mexico City to Kampala. Now, it is time to expand their reach by raising their voices. As Plan International Global Youth Advocate Humaira said during her opening remarks at CSW 58 this Monday, “Our voices were not heard in the last round of development goals, but we will make sure are voices are heard this time.”

The Women Deliver C-Exchange is a forum of corporate partners, including Bayer, General Electric, HRAPharma, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and WomenCare Global, that launched at Women Deliver 2013. The C-Exchange supports programs and activities that have a direct impact on girls and women.

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.

Editor’s Note: Johnson & Johnson is a sponsor of The Huffington Post’s Global Motherhood section.

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.