Girls’ Lives Matter

This guest blog post was written by Caren Wakoli. Caren is the Founder and Executive Director of the Emerging Leaders Foundation. Caren is also a mentor in the East Africa Women’s Mentoring Network. The fourth International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) on January 25-28, 2016, in Nusa Dua, Indonesia calls for “Global Commitments, Local Actions.” The conference is co-hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the National Population and Family Planning Board of Indonesia (BKKBN).

I have always been a believer in empowering girls to not only believe in themselves and pursue their dreams, but also to find their voices and speak out. However, I did not clearly understand the magnitude of the need to empower young women until I attended the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) 2016 in Indonesia! The blinders were removed from my eyes, and I began to vividly see the challenges girls encounter as they grow up and mature into womanhood—from gender-based violence, teen pregnancy, female genital mutilation, early and forced marriages, dropping out of school, HIV/AIDS, and sex trafficking, just to mention a few.

Caren Wakoli presenting in her role as Founder and Executive Director of the Emerging Leaders Foundation. (Photo: Caren Wakoli)

The picture looked quite sad especially when I read some of the statistics, from various studies, that were shared at the conference. However, my optimism rebounded again when I encountered community workers (both young and old), who were working around the clock to change this story.

And of course my own experience as an active participant in the Leadership, Management, and Governance (LMG) Project’s East Africa Women’s Mentoring Network. The Mentoring Network is just one activity that the LMG Project—a five-year U.S. Agency for International Development-funded project—uses to promote women leaders in the health sector. This platform enabled me to become a better mentor and I was able to borrow some tools for use in my own organization. At this point in time, I would like to commend the LMG Project’s Eva Ros and Sarah McKee for their dedication to ensure that this program was successful. Similarly, I thank my mentee and friend Europe Maalim for allowing me the chance to grow and to improve as a mentor and leader. We both benefitted and grew from our experiences.

During the ICFP 2016, I had several opportunities to share this success story over and over, and by the time the conference was ending, more than five young people had approached me to mentor them and two adults had requested more information on how they can become mentors at their places of work and in their communities. The best part of the story is that I encountered young community workers who volunteered to join my mentorship program for young women at the Emerging Leaders Foundation, to train other young women on leadership, reproductive health, and community service. In addition, there are many possibilities for collaboration and this simply advances my belief that girls’ lives matter, and that their dignity and freedom is of great importance to the growth and progress of nations. Let us all work for a better world by investing in our young women and men to be positive agents of change.

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