In Conversation with Christine Sayo

Christine Sayo is a sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate from Kenya. In this conversation with Girls’ Globe, she talks about feeling judged by others for simply talking openly about issues related to sex.

“The community looks at you as a deviant, as someone who is going against the norm.”

The good news, though, is that Christine is seeing a shift in attitudes thanks to globalization and increased access to information from different channels.

“Having information coming in from different sources has helped to destigmatize some of these issues around sexual and reproductive health in young people.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org in support of women’s advocacy messages.

If you liked this post, we think you’ll love our interviews with KingaWinfredScarlett, Natasha, Tasneem and Beverly, too!

Raising the Girl Agenda in Myanmar

We are still coming off the buzz of a really energetic and earnest Girls’ National Conference in Myanmar. Bringing together adolescent girls from across 70 diverse communities, the conference supported girls to work together and articulate an agenda to submit to regional and national lawmakers.

This agenda will be in the form of a letter. It will describe the barriers faced by girls in communities across Myanmar and the ways that law-makers can help to knock down these barriers so that all girls can achieve their full potential.

Last year, we made a big deal of International Day of the Girl – dedicating almost an entire season to it! We created opportunities for girls from all of our project communities to contribute directly to the development of an agenda for national and regional change – an agenda that would support girls’ development, education, access to safe work, freedom of movement, expression and beyond.

There were two key steps to making this work. Firstly, we held Regional Forums in 15 geographic hubs. Then, based on the outcomes from those events, we built the content and activities needed to make the National Conference both productive and deeply connected to the views and attitudes of adolescent girls.

In the lead up to those Regional Forums, our staff moved around the country with a mission to ensure every girl currently enrolled in our weekly leadership circles — over 3,000 girls — could attend a forum in her region. This would mean every girl could meet with others from nearby areas to discuss the specific, and sometimes invisible, barriers they share which can diminish self-perception and limit  choice.

Girls’ Regional Forums

The forums were focused on consensus-building activities. The day’s discussions were based on what we already knew about the situations of girls in different areas and the concerns girls have expressed to us in the past. In small groups, girls worked through various possible barriers to identify which applied most directly to their lives. They also discussed specific examples of times when, as a girl, they have encountered a barrier, been discriminated against, or felt unheard.

Girls’ National Conference

Immediately following the regional forums, we held our inaugural Girls’ National Conference in the City Hall of the ancient capital of Mandalay. The theme was “Girls, do you know you can fly?”  Attending the conference were 140 adolescent girls – peer-selected delegates representing nearly all of Girl Determined’s project communities.  Each spokesgirl shared on behalf of girls in her unique community, speaking out in a broader discussion with other girls facing sometimes similar and sometimes different issues.

Over two full days, the conference brought girls’ voices and experiences to the fore, while encouraging girls to act as change-makers in their communities and consider a different future for girls and women. Girls heard from one another and were introduced to basic concepts of civic action. Through consensus-building activities, they drafted a joint-letter expressing the concise needs of adolescent girls nation-wide.

Four main issues came out as the most detrimental to girls’ success in Myanmar:

    • inadequate or limited access to education
    • inadequate or limited access to health, nutrition, and sanitation needs
    • feeling unsafe and not knowing how to respond in dangerous situations
    • feeling unable to make decisions and express opinions about their own lives

We expect to see more girls taking issues into their own hands by expressing their needs in a structured way and demanding accountability by those in positions to make decisions.

Building On The Outcomes

Now that the conference has ended, two tasks remain.

Firstly, we will refine and revise the letter before the girls present it to members of parliament. A delegation of six girls from the conference will present the letter and express their concerns and hopes directly to parliamentarians.

Secondly, we will report back to ALL the girls who contributed their experience and insight on what their inputs have gone towards – both at the National Conference and during the direct appeal to lawmakers.

We will report back to all these girls through an article in our Wut Hmon magazine, and through a summary video of the National Conference.  This way, girls who weren’t at the national level gathering can see how their concerns were carried forth by their peers, and can experience the full process from regional forums to visits with parliaments.

We are excited to see how this plays out in the coming months, as girls’ voices resonate through Myanmar to create awareness of the hardships girls face, and of how they can rise up together.

In Conversation With Scarlett Hawkins

Scarlett Hawkins is a sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate from Australia. In this interview with Girls’ Globe, she talks to us about what that well-used phrase ‘meaningful youth engagement’ actually means, and describes some of the barriers young people face when trying to enter sectors such as international development or human rights.

“I think hustle culture has been hugely detrimental to the wellbeing of not just young people, but a lot of people working in this space.”

For Scarlett, the support she’s received from mentors has been an important part of her advocacy experience so far. She knows, though, that many young people don’t have access to the same kind of mentorship that could help them to shine.

“It would be really magnificent if people who were established in this space would more actively seek mentoring opportunities, and not just with people who are already rising or emerging stars.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org in support of women’s advocacy messages.

Advocacy Burnout is Real

The strict deadlines, tight budgets and high pressure involved in advocacy can be overwhelming, and it comes as no surprise that numerous articles talk about ‘advocacy burnout’ or ‘activist burnout’ as a real and pressing issue.

My Personal Experience

For me, this reality hit home around a year ago. After coming to the end of an exciting and challenging advocacy position, I joined my boyfriend for a few months in Norway. I believed it would be the peaceful break I needed after a fast-paced time in my life.

But it was in our small Norwegian house, overlooking the wonderful natural landscape, where I realised that things weren’t going back to ‘normal’ – at least not in my head. Instead of enjoying the peace and quiet I had been looking forward to, I felt restless and uneasy. My job had become part of me, and now that it had ended, I found myself struggling with my identity and confronted with the question of what my future plans and goals were. I knew I was an advocate, and I knew my passion for advocacy remained, but I didn’t know how that translated into my day-to-day life anymore.

After the first weeks in Norway, I found myself feeling anxious and experienced spells of depression. I was very irritable and I didn’t feel like I was successful. I was starting to forget things (like where I’d left the house-keys, or things off my grocery list) and although I wasn’t doing much, I was always tired.

Initially, I blamed the weather and climate. Being half-Kenyan, I found the short hours of sunlight and cold weather undesirable to say the least. There were also – I should add – other personal circumstances that fed into the way I was feeling.  But after I returned home, I didn’t notice any change and so I visited a psychologist who confirmed that I had been suffering from a burnout for over seven months.

After months of not feeling like myself and being overwhelmed, I felt a wave of relief wash over me when she said that. Since then, I have been working hard to get better and I now feel like I’m nearly my true self again.

Burnout & Young Advocates

The reason I’m sharing this personal and painful experience is because I’ve noticed that in the competitive field of advocacy, the issue of stress and burnout is rarely brought up. I have seen many young advocates work tirelessly during the night or through weekends to achieve wonderful results professionally, and then face repercussions in their personal lives.

The experience of burnout is shared by a wide range of young people working in various fields, not only advocacy. In the Netherlands, attention is being brought to increasing rates of burnout among young people, with the influence of social media and pressure to perform being named as underlying reasons for the trend.

Looking specifically at advocacy, the divide between work and home life can become blurred. Being an advocate is often more than a job – it’s part of your identity. Many young people enter this field due to their empathy, compassion and sense of justice. This makes it hard to clock out at the end of the working day and take enough time to rest and recuperate.

Adding in all of the other pressures on ‘millenials’, I feel that this group in particular needs stronger mental health support. They are particularly vulnerable to stress and burnout, given their drive to achieve results.

It is key that organizations and institutions in the development and advocacy sectors pay attention to the young people working for them. They need to provide all of their employees and volunteers with mental health support and information on how to access relevant services.

By keeping a close eye on the demands placed on young advocates we can help to create a more healthy work-life balance. Opening the dialogue on stress and burnout within organizations can help young employees and volunteers feel free to express their emotions without feeling like a failure, fearing stigma or worrying about future career repercussions.

Taking Action

If you’re a young advocate, how can you recognize if you are at risk of burnout? This article, written by fellow Girls’ Globe Blogger Tariro, highlights a number of points to look out for.

I have also noted the following tips from my own experience and online resources:

  • Don’t be afraid to look for help. This is the first thing I wish I had known. As an advocate you may be used to being in control of things, but when it comes to your mental health, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Start by reaching out to people close to you and then expand by visiting a health professional (this could be your doctor, a psychologist or a therapist).
  • Make time to rest. Whether it’s taking 15 minutes to read a book or taking a ‘mental health’ day from work, it is important to schedule time to do something that grounds you and gives you energy. My personal go-to has been guided-meditation before I go to bed, as I find myself feeling most anxious around this time. I currently use the free app Insight Timer, and I have also heard a lot of positive stories about the Headspace app.
  • Say no. If you are like me, you might find it challenging to say no to new opportunities or requests. In my case, it’s not necessarily that I don’t want to disappoint others, it’s more that I’m easily excited and eager to take on a new challenge. Making sure you look at the time and energy you have in a realistic way can help you pace yourself and say no some of the time.
  • Schedule time for reflection. A tip I received during my treatment was to schedule a specific time every day just to think. This can help you organize your thoughts and reduce overthinking during other times of the day.

There are many more coping and treatment strategies to deal with burnout or stress which mental health professionals can provide, and so it’s important to make services accessible and available to young advocates. A stronger recognition of this issue will help more young people feel free to open up about the realities of their work and the implications it can have on their health.