The Future is Female: Monenus and Vanessa’s just recovery for everyone


a teenage girl stands in front of a sign written in amharic and holding an open book
“Seeing girls on top of the game all the time – this is what drives me.”
Vanessa, 17, UGanda


A CRITICAL TIME FOR GIRLS AND WOMEN 

Every year on March 8, the world commemorates International Women’s Day by celebrating women’s achievements and championing gender equality. This year, International Women’s Day comes at a time when girls and women are facing gender discrimination made worse by COVID-19. 

The pandemic has exacerbated existing setbacks for women and girls. UN Women reports that the gender poverty gap will widen significantly in 2021, with 118 women living in poverty for every 100 men. Women worldwide also face a sharp increase in sexual and gender-based violence, and suffer more from pandemic-related unemployment and income loss. The long-lasting effects on women and girls will take decades to overcome if a gender-responsive recovery is not pursued.

Now, we must stand with the girls and women who are leading movements to address these gender gaps in surprising and innovative ways - girls like Vanessa and Monenus.


LISTEN. LEARN. ACT. LITERALLY.

Seventeen-year-old Vanessa is the President of a Radio Listener’s Club for youth in Uganda. It’s a unique approach to helping end the stigma around sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR). 

According to UN Women, 50 percent of women in Uganda experience domestic and/or sexual violence from their intimate partners. Forty percent of girls in Uganda are pulled from school to be forced into child marriage, followed by risky early pregnancy. Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and lack of sexual health education limit girls’ educational achievement and prevents girls and women from asserting their rights and gaining employment opportunities. 

A teenage girl stands in a field, smiling for the camera

Vanessa leads her peers in the Radio Listener's Club to help de-stigmatize SRHR.

A major barrier to gender equality for girls and women is lack of awareness and support for SRHR among both men and women. How can attitudes change? Vanessa has found a way. Through her Radio Listener’s Club, she is helping change minds one broadcast at a time.

At the club, local youth tune in to specific radio shows tailored to adolescent girls and boys. Vanessa and her classmates aim to challenge stigmas regarding SRHR, exploring topics like self-esteem, boosting confidence, and planning for the future. 

“We listen to the shows, take down notes, and later debate about the different themes aired,” Vanessa explained. “We base our discussions on our own experiences, what goes on in our communities, with our friends and families, and agree on lessons learned.” 

Involving boys and men in conversations regarding gender equality is imperative to changing harmful societal views. That’s why the club counts both boys and girls as members. 

Growing up, boys always occupy almost all the space. Girls need their equality. When girls and boys share the space, roles are taken up equally and no one is superior to one another.” 

The club has already had a big impact on its members. They are more in control of their own health, and both boys and girls have changed their perspectives on gender roles. Young girls can freely share their challenges and feel supported by a group of peers in finding a solution. Together, they are advancing gender equality through advocacy, responsibility, knowledge, and honesty. 

Seeing girls on top of the game all the time – this is what drives me. I want to shine, and I want the same for my fellow girls.” Vanessa says, with pride.

“Growing up, boys always occupy almost all the space. Girls need their equality. When girls and boys share the space, roles are taken up equally and no one is superior to one another.”
Vanessa, 17, UGanda

MONENUS’ FEMALE-LED SOCIAL ENTERPRISE

Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, fifteen-year-old Monenus is the leader of her school’s Gender-Based Girls Club, which boasts 45 members. As a young girl, her leadership is made more remarkable by the fact that women in her area do not typically hold leadership roles. 

Like too many other countries, Ethiopia has a staggering gender gap. Fifty percent of girls who enroll in primary school only make it to Grade 5, and four out of ten girls are married when they are children. Only six per cent of rural women have access to credit, and only one per cent have access to vocational training. Women make up the majority of the rural agricultural workforce but have little say in financial decision making. At just 15, Monenus is pushing back against these odds.

A teenage girl stands next to a chest freezer

Monenus shows off her school's chest freezer which houses snacks that they sell off as part of their social enterprise.

Through their social enterprise (a snack business), the girls earn money that they reinvest in community building projects. They manage the potato chip and ice machines at their school, which generate revenue for their school and for families who need extra assistance. So far, they’ve given monetary support to local Elders facing pandemic-related difficulties, refurbished two homes belonging to local single mothers and purchased sanitary supplies to keep girls in school.

Monenus and her friends also have great working relationships with local authorities, which help them address the multiple challenges that girls face in their community. For her first project, Monenus successfully pushed to increase sexual and reproductive health and rights training at her school. 

By putting girls in the forefront of their activities, the club demonstrates to everyone that girls and women are capable of strong leadership. For the girls who join, the club’s various fundraising schemes teach them the value of conducting their own business, setting them up for a strong economic future. 

The youth can play many roles in their community,” Monenus says. “Coming together and collaborating is very important. Above all, focusing on solving girls’ challenges should be a priority. We have to be tolerant of each other; we have to scale up our best experiences and come together to support girls.”

“Being a girl, I am very interested in solving my fellow girls’ problems. I enjoy helping those who need it, and am developing confidence as the leader of this club.”
Monenus, 15, Ethiopia

WE CAN HELP CREATE A GENDER-EQUAL FUTURE

When asked how their gender work can be supported, both girls replied with the same answer: the adults need to listen. 

Adults should be ready to create a loving environment that is conducive for change. Young girls need to know that they are supported,” Vanessa says. 

Monenus agrees. “The most important place to solve girls’ challenges is in their own home. Parents need to show love and support for their children, and share good experiences with them. When parents listen to the youth, they’ll be able to support girls and help them overcome their challenges.” 

Here’s how you can help:

  • Speak up for women’s and girls’ rights. By speaking up when hearing misogyny or challenging community norms, you are using your voice to support women. 
  • Support women leaders. Whether at work, at home or in your community, listen to women’s and girls’ experiences and support having women in decision-making positions
  • Support gender-responsive community work. You can make a donation to an organization like CFTC that provides women with livelihoods training, supports SRHR clubs and performs gender equality training for communities. 

Vanessa and Monenus’ work cannot be done in isolation. Meaningful change for girls and women requires global cooperation from local, regional, national and international changemakers, along with organizations like Canadian Feed The Children and the support of everyday Canadians. Together, we can help ensure a post-COVID recovery that leaves no girl or women behind. To build that gender-equal future, we have to start today. Join us!

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