#IWD2021 Meet some inspiring grass-roots women leaders who are bringing lasting change to their communities
Date: Thursday, March 4, 2021
The data is clear. Despite women’s increased engagement in public decision-making roles, equality is far off: women hold about 21 percent of ministerial positions globally, only three countries have 50 percent or more women in parliament, and 22 countries are headed by a woman. At the current rate of progress, gender equality will not be reached among Heads of Government until 2150, another 130 years.
What’s more, violence against women in public life is widespread. Women in leadership roles struggle with lack of access to finance, online hate and violence, and discriminatory norms and exclusionary policies that make rising through the ranks even harder.
Yet, women persist, and continue to prove that when they lead, they bring transformative changes to entire communities and the world at large.
Inclusive and diverse feminist leadership is key to sustained global development as the world continues to confront urgent challenges – from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change, deepening inequalities, conflict and democratic backsliding. The United Nations is working around the world to enable more women to take their rightful seats at decision-making tables.
Here are the voices of just ten women and girls from globally, seven with UN support and three with self-reliant projects, have led transformation processes that are creating change..
Mayerlín Vergara Pérez champions the rights of children and teen survivors of sexual exploitation in Colombia (with UN support )
Mayerlin Vergara Perez, pictured on the beach in Riohacha, La Guajira, Colombia.Photo: UNHCR/Nicolo Filippo Rosso
Mayerlín Vergara Pérez sleeps with her phone on the pillow.
As the director of a home for dozens of children and teens who have survived sexual violence and exploitation in Riohacha, on Colombia’s eastern border with Venezuela, she never knows when she might get called in to resolve a crisis.
“Sexual violence has all but destroyed their ability to dream. It’s stolen their smiles and filled them with pain, anguish and anxiety,” said Pérez, a vibrant 45-year-old. “The pain is so profound, and the emotional void they feel is so deep that they simply don’t want to live.”
Throughout a career that she regards as a calling, Pérez has assisted hundreds of the roughly 22,000 children and teens that the Colombian NGO Fundación Renacer (or “Foundation Rebirth”) has served since its founding 32 years ago.
In recognition of her work, UNHCR named Pérez the laureate of the 2020 Nansen Refugee Award, a prestigious annual prize that honours those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to support forcibly displaced and stateless people.
“For me, the prize represents an opportunity for the girls and boys,” said Pérez, adding she hoped it would show that “it is possible for survivors of sexual violence to change their lives and undertake life projects that are positive for them, for their families and for society.”
Read more about Pérez’s work in this story by UNHCR.
PARVATI Indian Youth Leader, the rural revival changing the fix narrative on women empowerment. (with self-reliant projects)
Parvati Jangid Suthar-India, pictured with Indian Peace Keepers(BSF), during peace & motivational program. Photo: Youth Parliament of India.
Parvati means the daughter of the great Himalaya Mountain, no wonder then her commitment is as steadfast and lofty as the mountains themselves. Born in Western Rajasthan’s Indo-Pak border areas village Gagariya, Chairperson and President of Youth Parliament of India, Supremely talented Vidya Bharati India alumni Parvati Jangid wears several hats. Inspired by the ilk of Swami Vivekananda and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Parvati, has pledged her whole life to social service & the cause of the #VasudhaivaKutumbakam (One World Family).
During the UN Girl Up Leadership Summit held in Capitol Hill US in 2015, Parvati made the following clarion call –
“It doesn’t matter if a girl is born poor or rich, in a village or a city. She is every bit entitled to cherish big dreams and it is on us to make sure that her dreams come true.”
The chief guest atthe event, Michelle Obama, the then First Lady of the United States, fell in love with this line of thought. Parvati, who was one of the 150 young leaders chosen across the world at the summit, was also announced as Girl Rising Ambassador.
Parvati Jangid is a staunch believer of women empowerment for which she has been awarded with National Women Pride Award. She strongly believes that for an equal and just society to emerge, women empowerment is a must and it can only be achieved through educating and enlightening our people. Parvati, known as ‘Bharat Ki Laxmi’ made India proud when she attended and putforth her views on the importance of agriculture and feeling of nationalism at the Israel World Governance Expedition in October 2018, during which she was actively involved in matters of India-Israel relations.
She is also very famous in European country Moldova & Maldives, her works are being widely broadcasted there and young and women are inspired by Parvati, Parvati has been awarded many honors by Moldova(Like-Order of Leadership, International Military Medal etc).
Resonating with John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, she also believes, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” According to her, the concept of ‘Sewa Bhav’ or the inclination towards service, should be the core value of every Indian. She firmly believes that each one of us has to do one’s bit for the country because every effort, however miniscule, does count.
Parvati considers the whole world as one family, she is dedicated to world peace, fraternity and the salvation of the poor. She is also associated with the volunteers of many reputed organizations of the world and the United Nations Volunteers Mission.
Read more about her in this story by YOUTH PARLIAMENT OF INDIA.
Elena Crasmari, the only woman in her local council in Moldova (with UN support )
Elena Crasmari, who stands in her village’s medical centre, ran for local councillor as an independent candidate. Photo: UN Women/Tara Milutis
Thirty-five-year-old Elena Crasmari was fed up with not being able to access the medical centre in her village of Dolna, a rural community of 1,155 people in Moldova. She couldn’t take the stairs and had to get on her hands and knees to enter the building, because of her disability.
“I went to the town hall to ask them to help me do something about the stairs of the medical facility,” Crasmari recalls. “The mayor handed me a bag of cement and some sand and told me I had to do it myself. After this, I decided to run for office.”
Crasmari learned new skills and gained more confidence as she participated in the training sessions on women’s political participation and civic engagement supported by UN Women and its partners. She built a successful grassroots election campaign and ran for local councillor as an independent candidate.
“I wanted to make the first step in proving that people with disabilities have a chance... People need to know that we have equal rights, not only in theory but also in practice.”
Women make only 25 per cent of parliamentarians, 22 per cent of mayors and 27 per cent of district councilors in Moldova. Today, Crasmari is the only woman in a nine-person team, as the local councillor. Since being elected, one of her first projects was to renovate the village medical centre.
“I also hope that I’ll be able to make all the state institutions – including our museum, the kindergarten and the town hall – accessible to people with disabilities,” Crasmari says, “and to mothers with small children and senior citizens who come and pick up their pensions.”
Read more about Crasmari’s story on UN Women website .
PRAYER NWAGBOSO IKEGWUONU, Nigerian young girl Education to the poor and providing food to the needy (with self-reliant projects)
Prayer Nwagboso Ikegwuonu, pictured in the her office, Nigeria. Photo: NAF
As the Chief Executive officer of Naza Agape Foundation (NAF), my team and I have partnered with more than 30 organizations to see that the less privileged are back to school and fed adequately. Under NAF’s scholarship scheme over 300 less privileged have been sent back to school with school fees, writing materials, Uniforms, books and other essentials. In October 2019, NAF partnered with UNESCO and SAP to train 1065 young girls, 75 teachers on coding and on computer literacy in Abuja. In 2019 NAF embarked on a “Project Feed 5000” cut across Lagos, Abuja and Jos. 3,000 persons were fed during the first edition of the campaign. In the year 2020, from January to September, we fed 1,000 less privileged in Lagos, Ogun, Plateau states, and Abuja (FCT) Nigeria.
In December 2020, we were able to feed and clothe about 700 people through our partnership with. We supported the following villages/communities namely; KUZEN, KURRA BEROM, TISSAN, KAKKURUK, KACHING, KPWABIDUK, NINGON, KUFANG, KURRA. These villages are all located in Gashish, Barkin Ladi Local Government of Plateau state, Nigeria. Thus far through this PROJECT, we have been able to feed about 4,700 persons in Nigeria and still counting.
Read more about her in this story by NAF.
Amina Mirsakiyeva paves the way for women in science in Kazakhstan (with UN support )
Amina Mirsakiyeva. Photo credit: Polina Selivanova
“I broke the system,” says Amina Mirsakiyeva, a researcher for Karzeis, the largest manufacturer of optical systems in the world.
Her journey to a career in chemistry was not easy in her home country Kazakhstan, where being a scientist has low prestige and women are expected to opt out of their careers to start and take care of their families.
Not quite ready to choose between her studies and starting a family, Mirsakiyeva decided to apply for a doctoral programme in chemistry in Sweden and left Kazakhstan in 2012.
Now based in Stuttgart, Germany, Mirsakiyeva traces her success to support networks such as her parents, colleagues and friends along her career path, and she wants to pave the way for other women like her.
“All my social activities are aimed to support women and help to inspire as many people as possible,” she says.
Mirsakiyeva created a network for women scientists from Kazakhstan, to increase recognition and respect for scientific career in her country and to normalize the image of girls and women in science. She also organizes breakfast meetings for businesswomen and immigrants. Mirsakiyeva believes that science belongs to everyone and created a podcast to explain scientific concepts in accessible ways.
Mirsakiyeva also tells her story on UNDP’s new regional online platform for gender equality in STEM in Europe and Central Asia to encourage women and girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Read more about her in this story by UNDP.
Rebecca Chepkateke holds authorities accountable in Uganda (with UN support )
Rebecca Chepkateke (centre) sits with women from Ashiokanian village. Photo: NAWOU/Fionah Barbra
“Mwana muke hana haki yake! Mwana muke hana haki yake,” says Rebecca Chepkateke with anguish. It’s a Kiswahili expression that means, “women have no rights”. She’s heard this phrase repeated too many times to women who attempt to report gender-based violence to community leaders.
Chepkateke is the Chairperson of the Karita Women’s Network, a coalition formed under the Women Networks for Gender Equality, supported by the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, and Women Empowerment project in the Amudat District of northern Uganda. She was elected to the role by seven women’s groups who came together to strengthen the advocacy of women in their respective villages.
Chepkateke provides a critical link between women experiencing violence and justice and health services. Her work encompasses a wide array of support, from helping women report their attacker – and ensuring the case is not dismissed by police – to assisting women in isolated regions to give birth safely by connecting them with a village health team nurse.
The leadership of grassroots activists like Chepkateke is especially important during the pandemic, when gender inequalities have worsened.
“Women have suffered the most during this period,” says Chepkateke. “With the closure of markets and ban on public transport, they had no way of selling their produce or conducting their businesses… Domestic violence has increased tremendously.”
Chepkateke hopes to take her campaign for equality even further by becoming Woman Councillor in Karita Sub-County, a position that would help her strengthen legislation that protects women from violence.
Read more about Chepkateke’s work supported by the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative.
Belen Perugachi, a teenage council woman in Ecuador (with UN support )
Belen Perugachi strolls through her family’s garden. Photo: UNICEF/Santiago Arcos
Belen Perugachi was just 12 years old when she decided to become an advocate for indigenous rights by joining the Children and Adolescents Group of Pueblo Kayambi in Ecuador.
At 16, she's the youngest member of the Rights Protection Council of Cayambe Municipality. Her ascent to Council Vice President in 2019 marked the first time that a teen was elected to the position.
“I want people in rural areas to have the same opportunities as people in cities,” she says. “I imagine a world with respect for different cultures, with respect for men and women… I dream of equity.”
In the rural community of Paquiestancia, agriculture and livestock make up the primary source of income for many families. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the main market closed in Cayambe, Perugachi and her youth group stepped up, opening a new marketplace to support women and their families.
Perugachi aims to preserve more than the local economy; she advocates for indigenous rights on the global stage. In 2018, she travelled to Chile for the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“My participation sent a message to indigenous girls like me in Latin America,” she says. “I told them to stand up for their rights and feel proud of their traditions.”
Get inspired by more girls leading changes in this story by UNICEF.
Kelsang Tshomo supports female bus conductors drive out violence in Bhutan (with UN support )
Bus conductor Kelsang Tshomo is helping end gender-based violence among her colleagues and passengers in Thimpu, Bhutan. Photo: UNFPA Bhutan/Sunita Giri
When reports of domestic violence spiked during the COVID-19 lockdown last spring, bus conductor Kelsang Tshomo checked in on friends and colleagues in Bhutan’s capital city of Thimpu every few days to make sure they were alright and provided information if they needed help. Tshomo had learned about gender-based violence prevention and response at an information session conducted by UNFPA and its non-profit partner RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women), which inspired her to become a changemaker in her community.
“The UNFPA training made me realize that any form of abuse – verbal, emotional, sexual or physical – is not acceptable,” says Tshomo, who is also a peer counsellor for a staff of 87 conductors and drivers for Thimpu City Bus Services.
In her counsellor role, she advises her peers on reporting cases and accessing psychosocial support. “Colleagues, some of whom had lived subdued lives in fear of their husbands, are now confident and engage in discussions.”
These newly empowered bus conductors and drivers, sensitized in spotting and de-escalating abuse and harassment among passengers, join her as she takes her advocacy to the streets. Thus far, UNFPA’s partnership with the bus company has trained 25 conductors and drivers on gender-based violence prevention with plans to expand to 20 more buses.
“To bring about a real change, women have to provide each other the space to share, learn and grow together,” Tshomo says. “Women supporting women is crucial to ensure a safe, equal and happy society for both men and women.”
Read more about Tshomo’s work in this story by UNFPA.
Editar Ochieng, a survivor changing the narrative on sexual violence in Kenya (with UN support )
Editar Ochieng. Photo courtesy: Editar Ochieng
As a six-year-old girl, Editar Ochieng was sexually abused. At the age of 16, she was gang raped.
Ochieng grew up in Kibera, the largest informal settlement in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, where. sexual and gender-based violence is an endemic and pervasive issue. It has been exacerbated even more in the COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdowns creating more family and financial stress.
When she was 26, Ochieng founded the Feminist for Peace Rights and Justice Centre in Kibera, an organization supporting survivors of sexual and other forms of violence in the community.
At one point during the pandemic, Ochieng alone was receiving up to 10 calls from violence victims each day.
Citing numbers however, is not enough for Ochieng. For her, one woman abused is one woman too many and it’s the obligation of all who have the capacity to do so to stand up for their rights and ensure that the status quo is “disrupted.”
In 2020, UN Human Rights and UN Women - under a project called Let It Not Happen Again – provided support to Ochieng and other human rights defenders to better respond and support gender-based violence survivors to report to police, access psychosocial medical services and safe houses.
Ochieng says that education and training has given her the power as a feminist to look at challenges and transcend them.
“When you’re a leader, you’re changing the narrative,” she says. “We need to train our young girls on the importance of education. We need to reclaim our power so that we raise a different generation that understands there is power, but there is power that you can control.”
UN Human Rights is featuring Editar Ochieng, as well as other women human rights leaders, in the #IStandWithHer campaign.
Monica S Purohit-INDIA. Voice and Ears of Deaf & Differently challenged women victims of sexual abuse (with self-reliant projects)
Monica S Purohit-India, pictured with Deaf & Differently challenged girls. Photo: Anand Service Society
Mrs. Monica S Purohit
Founder of Anand Service Society, Madhya Pradesh, India.
Voice and Ears of Deaf & Differently challenged women victims of sexual abuse, Rape, Molestation.
For the last 23 years, She has been euducating more than 25000 vocally challenged children, she has been making more than 5000 vocally challenged people self-reliant, she has been fighting against torture and exploitation.
Read more about her in this story by ANAND SERVICE SOCIETY,INDIA.