Happy New Month Everyone!!! As the Month of May generally represents growth and advancement, we wish you lots of fulfillment and higher heights - now and always.
Stay inspired throughout the month by this amazing interview with our Super Girl of the Month...
Girl Pride Circle: Greetings Maureen! It’s our pleasure to have you as our Super Girl of the month. May we have a brief introduction of your amazing self?
Maureen: I am really honored to be recognized by an outstanding movement for girls, such as GPC. I am Maureen Oduor, a development specialist by profession and a women/girls reproductive health rights activist. I am Kenyan but work in Tanzania with African Peace Ambassadors Tanzania as a regional coordinator of the organization. I also work part time for Service Health for People living Positively with HIV/AIDS as the Adolescents HIV/AIDS projects Programmer. Again, I am one of Women Deliver 100 young leaders, actively working on and advocating for the health, rights and well-being of women and girls across the globe.
Girl Pride Circle: Super! We all have our different paths that have motivated us or influenced our involvement in social work. How did your journey of advocacy for the rights of women and girls begin?
Maureen: My Journey began in 2001 - when I was at the tender age of 16. Sadly, I saw a human being die before my very eyes for the first time. I still feel very sad about it as she was a fellow student who died due to unsafe abortion. I remember helping in carrying this particular girl, who was bleeding in our hands for a distance of 8 kilometers to catch a bus to the hospital. She died upon arrival. Girls pregnancy rate was so high and the unfortunate "penalty" for such girls was to be irrevocably expelled from the school system. Many had to accept their fate and get married to older men through arranged and forced marriages. I couldn’t stand seeing all this around me, even though I had nothing tangible to offer by then. However, it dawned on me sooner than later that I had a strong voice that I could raise and talk about such issues. This marked the beginning of my fufilling decade old journey.
Girl Pride Circle: This is quite inspiring Maureen. Could you share details of your work and key involvements, particularly in the world of Adolescents Sexual Reproductive Health Advocacy?
Maureen: I have a strong bias for working with grassroots organizations because I believe that’s where the key to outstanding impact lies. In addition to my current work (earlier highlighted), I have worked on the platform of various organizations. These include - Tembea Youth Center for Sustainable Development where I happen to be a co founder and KMET - a leading grass root SRH advocacy and provider in western Kenya. I am also an active part of several international networks such as Women Deliver 100 young leaders - a global network of amazing young people from over 68 countries who are committed to improving the lives of girls and women.
Girl Pride Circle: Great! You earlier mentioned that you have bagged a BA in Development Studies. We are also aware that you are currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Gender studies.What has inspired these choices?
Maureen: Well, I strongly believe that my choice of profession is quite purposeful and instrumental to the pursuit of my passion and purpose. I studied Development due to my passion for being at the center of development of my country and the African continent at large, as an active young woman. I am equally convinced that women and youth are the heart and backbone of development of every nation. My Masters in Gender studies responds to my personal experience, as I have observed that women and girls remain victims of exclusion in several systems due to gender inequality globally. I therefore wanted to have a professional voice as well as the requisite knowledge to join others in turning things around.
Girl Pride Circle: You exude so much passion in your advocacy for and work with girls and women. Which projects/programmes do you consider to be your most fantastic engagements?
Maureen: Unarguably, I would first mention the Green Sanipad Initiative (GSI) which was launched on 29th May 2013 in Malaysia during the 3rd Women Deliver Conference. It was supported by the Municipal Council of Muheza, Tanzania. This initiative has grown and reached a wide number of needy girls, providing them with menstrual hygiene information and reusable sanitary towels. This has proven to be lifesaving, as girls who benefited from the project have recorded significant improvement in their academic performance. The project has also turned the watch around by positively engaging community members who have come to acknowledge the fact that menstruation is a safe biological process and not a curse as was previously perceived.
Plan at Hand Girl Empowerment Project is another one I cannot go without mentioning. This project was supported by Women Deliver through the C-Exchange Youth Program, from March-September 2014. With funding and technical assistance, I have been implementing this project which reaches teenage mothers, teenage wives and generally girls that want to learn or access reproductive goods and services. Specifically, the project uses mobile phone SMS to reach hard-to-reach girls in a more private and confidential manner hence reducing up to four key barriers to girls access to family planning services. It’s an amazing experience to work with the girls via SMS in areas like Muheza District in Tanzania, where family planning remains a taboo surrounded by so much stigma.
Girl Pride Circle: This is wonderful and very innovative. From an African perspective, would you say that advocacy for women and girls has brought about significant dividends over the years?
Maureen: I think to some extent we are making some progress and reaping some benefits. We see some policies being reviewed, more young people becoming more vocal to speak up about their rights and accelerated hope for the increase of budgetary allocation for women and girls. Due to advocacy, more women are vying for leadership roles and political offices - this has greatly influenced the promulgation of women-friendly laws in East Africa. Finally, more women are getting education and beginning to be more independent. Despite the evident changes, there is still a lot of work to be done. This is because girls still drop out of school in large numbers due to teenage pregnancies/child marriages and cultural gender preferences affect women aggressively. Also, some reproductive rights policies are still brutal and several cultural and religious practices (such as FGM) still harm thousands of African girls. We need more investments to make our voices heard. In short, we have a long way to go.
Girl Pride Circle: On a final note, considering that Africa boasts of the largest population of young people, please share your final thoughts about the current debate on sexual and reproductive rights of young people, especially from a governance perspective.
Maureen: The Reality is that Africa has all it takes to attain full development. A significant part of Africa's potentials also lies in her youths. Thus, it is sad that we are losing young people to preventable sexual and reproductive health risks such as HIV/AIDS and other STIs, abortion, cervical cancer, etc. Our governments would rather invest in ventures other than sexual and reproductive rights of young people, neglecting the huge impact that SRHR has on societal advancement. This explains why some economies have remained redundant because youths - especially young women, who should drive the economy are not healthy and lack the necessary support and encouragement. Many governments see and treat youths as challenges but I affirm here that this is a gross misconception. Unless youths are engaged and accorded reproductive health and rights then Africa as well as the world will be losing seriously in social and economic terms.
Girl Pride Circle: Thank you for your time Maureen. We commend you for your unrivaled commitment to the cause of women and girls. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.
Maureen: It’s my pleasure.