International Women's Day: Meet women and girls who inspire us

Feb 25, 2020
“Women are going to form a chain, a greater sisterhood than the world has ever known.”― Nellie McClung, Canadian author, social activist, suffragette and politician. 

This International Women’s Day we’re celebrating women who are working every day to create a more equal world. Working for equality is not something we can do alone. We each have a role to play and together we can make the world a more equal place for all of us. 

Living in Canada in 2020, women have made extraordinary progress towards equality. Many of us have greater agency and access to the things we need to live a full and fulfilling life than ever before. 

Yet for many more women here and around the world, there is still much progress to be made. 

Gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment are core to the development and humanitarian work we do, and foundational to the realization of human rights for everyone. To achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals, we have to keep working together for gender equality.

UNICEF estimates that 700 million women alive in the world today were married as girls; a third of them before their 15th birthday. And each year, another 12 million girls under the age of 18 become child brides. 

According to UNESCO, there are an estimated 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 out of school. 15 million primary school-aged girls will likely never enter a classroom in their lifetime. Those from the poorest families are more likely to be out of school than their peers from more affluent communities.

According to the World Bank, 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. And 200 million women have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting. 

As much progress as has been made, there is still more to do.

Meet some of the women and girls who are inspiring us as they work to create a gender equal world:

Combating child marriage in Bangladesh – Dola 

A young Bangladeshi girl smiles. She has long dark hair, and wears a plaid shirt and blue jeans. Photo: Kate Shaw

Fifteen-year-old Dola is using her voice to advocate for girls in her home country of Bangladesh.  Part of the leadership team of the Child Forum in Bangladesh, she and her colleagues have stopped over 600 child marriages in the past two years. Last year she visited the UN in Geneva to speak on behalf of girls in Bangladesh, and to share about the Forum’s success in preventing child marriage.

The youngest of four daughters, Dola has seen how girls are perceived to be a burden on their families. Her own mother was married at the age of 13, to a man eight years her senior. Dola is determined to change that perspective and to show that girls can achieve their dreams and soar further than they ever imagined. 

Peacebuilding in Brazil – Samila

a young Brazilian girl sits at a table with a young black woman, microphones in front of them. They are smiling.
Photo: Cattleya Lopes 

Samila, a fifteen-year-old from Fortaleza, Brazil, loves to dance. She and other young people from the community connect at a local community centre run by World Vision Brazil, to dance, make art and play music. Her neighbourhood faces many challenges including child abuse and gang violence. To get to the community centre, Samila and her friends don special vests as a symbol to gang members to let them pass freely.

Samila is also a member of the MJPOP (Young Public Policy Monitoring) through World Vision Brazil and, together with a group of nine young people, she conducted an investigation on violence, discrimination, exclusion, racism, gender inequality and homophobia. During European Development Days 2019, she presented the study in front of 5,000 people, earning the commitment of the community to guarantee more participation spaces for girls and boys in situations of social vulnerability. 

Advocating for change in Canada – Cherie

a young Hong-Kong-Canadian woman smiles as she looks out over a glass podium with a microphone.Photo: Alison Ralph 

At just 22 years old, Cherie Wai was recently recognized with World Vision Canada’s Ruth Roberts Award for her passion for children in the developing world, and her work to make the world a better place, ‘especially’ for children. A World Vision youth ambassador since 2014, she later became the President of the University of Waterloo World Vision Club where she organized numerous fundraising events. Her voice was instrumental in 2018 where she joined the World Vision delegation at the G7 and was a leading advocate for educating girls in crises (the G7 that year culminated in a landmark Government of Canada declaration). Cherie works with at-risk youth in Toronto and continues to use her voice and network to spread awareness of and engage others in issues of justice and equality. 

Advocating for women and girls in DRC – Martine

A young Congolese girl smiles at the camera. She is wearing a navy blue sweatshirt and is pumping her fist in the air jubilantly.Photo: Brett Tarver

“There is a proverb that says that educating a girl educates a nation,” says 16-year-old Martine. When her father died, she and her mother and sisters lost everything because as women, they had no legal standing. This experience ignited a passion in Martine to see girls in her home community of Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have the same opportunities as boys. 

Plagued by conflict for decades, girls in the DRC are among the most vulnerable. Many have experienced extraordinary violence, are orphaned, forced into combat or child marriage. Being part of a local child parliament has equipped Martine with the knowledge of her rights and the rights of women and girls the world over. And she shares that knowledge with every girl she meets.

“I tell them not to be scared, not to fear and to even advocate for other women. I also tell them that girls can do something, even if they were exploited, they must know that they can do something better for the future. All conventions show that we are equal. We must respect the conventions of human rights in the world. It’s not just a theory,” says Martine.

Recycling for the future in Ecuador – Liciria

A young Ecuadorian woman smiles, holding a black hose in her hand. She's wearing jeans and a green jacket. Photo: Santiago Mosquera

After enduring years of domestic violence, 33-year old Liciria picked up her two daughters and left. She found work sorting garbage for a man who recycled plastic, but it wasn't enough to cover expenses and send her girls to school.

Over time, her employer bought machinery to recycle the plastic bottles and make them into hoses. Liciria learned to use the machines quickly and when her employer went bankrupt, she rented them. In order to expand her fledgling business, she took out a loan with Vision Fund

Four years later, Liciria's business is booming with many employees producing hoses for sale to hardware stores and specialty stores locally and in Colombia. Now her daughters are both in school, and Lircia has plans to expand the business further. 

“I want my daughters to fulfill their dreams,” says Liciria. “Daniela wants to enter the army and Nathaly wants to be a nurse, and with these loans, I can work to grow and secure their futures.” 

Self-defence: She is ‘no less’ in India – Richa and Prithima

two young Indian girls stand on one leg with their other leg stretched out in a martial arts kick.
Photo: Manjeri Mridula Narayan

Sisters Prithima (19) and Richa (17) have become local celebrities in their hometown. Five years ago, they participated in a 12-day self-defence camp led by World Vision India and it changed the course of their lives. 

“Both of us felt so empowered by the self-defence we learnt in those few days, that we were inspired to pursue the sport further”, says Richa. When the trainers saw the talent in the two girls, they invited them to participate in weekly training. It was a challenge to keep up with their training and their studies, but they succeeded, and soon they were competing at regional and national competitions, winning medal after medal. Prithima even got a college scholarship through the sport.

“Self-defence has emboldened me to become fearless. I used to think that boys or men are stronger than I am. There was a fear that I can be attacked. Now, I think differently,” a confident Prithima says. Learning self-defence helped the two sisters pursue higher education, become sport champions and, above all, become confident and fearless. Their mom, Purobi notes that girls from their community have all become bold. She says with pride, “I see my daughters as equal to men, they are no less!” 

The power of women entrepreneurs in Myanmar - Chyang and Yi Yi 

Video: World Vision Canada

Chyang Nam and Yi Yi Myint are running businesses in Kachin State, one of the most dangerous parts of Myanmar. Despite being surrounded by conflict and instability, their businesses are thriving. With loans from Vision Fund, Chyang has been able to expand her farm with piglets and her noodle shop, while Yi Yi runs an amber shop where she makes jewelry to sell. Both women are able to support their families with education for their children, nutritious meals, and hope for the future. Yi Yi even plans to open a second business. 

This seemingly small act of stepping out and starting a business is having an impact beyond the immediate needs of their families. They are inspiring a new generation with new dreams and possibilities.

Educating for change in the Philippines - Rosemiah

a young Philippino woman smiles. She holds a picture book and wears a red t-shirt. There are a whole group of small children seated behind her. Photo: Ramon Lucas Jimenez 

Rosemiah (19) grew up as a sponsored child in the Philippines, and when she graduated from high school, she made plans to study Engineering at university. On weekends, she tutored children in elementary school who were struggling with reading, through World Vision Philippines’ Culture of Reading workshops. This ignited in her a passion for teaching that she hadn’t realized was there. She switched gears and is now working towards becoming a qualified teacher to help underserved children with learning challenges get the education they deserve.

“I think every child deserves to be provided with quality education based on their learning needs,” says Rosemiah. “The happiness I feel when I know I have imparted an important learning to these children is unexplainable,” she added.

What now?

Around the world these women are working to make change in their own families, their communities and the world. And it’s not just them. Each one of us has a role to play to create a gender equal world. Every choice we make, big or small to actively challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women's achievements, builds to a crescendo, until one day we will eliminate all the barriers for a just and equal world for all of us. We can do this, together.

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