28th of March 2022
When you ask teenagers what they do in their spare time, you expect them to say soccer, painting, maybe even playing the guitar. What you never expect them to respond with is “gender activism”, which is just what Stecia, a 16 year old Plan International advocate told STAND.
Plan International is a humanitarian organization that was founded to advance children’s rights and advocate for gender equality across the globe. Their vision is to strive for a world where “girls can be free to learn, lead, decide, survive, and thrive in all aspects of their lives” (Plan International Ireland, 2022). Currently, they are the leading international development organization in Ireland (Plan international Ireland, 2022). The impact they have on the lives of vulnerable people is astounding. Over 50 million children have benefitted from their work, with 5.5 million girls receiving improved sexual health, and 6.1 million girls gaining better access to education. They help to bring attention to the struggles of both women in Ireland and abroad who are faced with adversity because of their gender.
Uganda is one of the many countries where Plan International is working hard to make a difference. Here, they support the empowerment of children who are exploited because of their gender. Stecia, a Ugandan gender activist, is one of the many young girls they work with. During the interview, she details her journey as a young girl growing up in Uganda and the issues her and her peers face as a result of their gender.
Stecia describes herself as a person who “is very passionate about girls’ education […] and active in advocating for girls’ rights”. Her activism was born out of necessity due to the lack of equal opportunity in her community. She describes this inequality as particularly visible in education. Educating young women is seen as a much less important task than teaching them how to be good wives and mothers. These inequalities were exacerbated by Covid-19 which inspired Stecia to take a stand, despite her young age. The economic strain of the pandemic has been felt by families across the globe but can often result in very different consequences. For some, it might mean receiving fewer hours at work, but for girls in Uganda it could mean being sold to men and forced to bear their children. For Stecia, her classrooms were emptied of many girls whose families could not afford to provide education for their daughters. She laments the fact that “so many girls had been left at home but they have taken the boys back to school”.
Stecia has a strong vision for the future and her dreams of a gender equal world spurs her activism onwards. When STAND asked her what a gender equal world looked like to her, she replied “I imagine this being a world where all girls and boys rights are respected and are not violated. A world where all women are given higher political offices. Where all young women are enrolled in school”. She believes that if we were to one day achieve this then it would “impact these young girls and women could be shining stars”.
“I imagine… a world where all girls and boys rights are respected and are not violated. A world where all women are given higher political offices. Where all young women are enrolled in school”.
However, in order for us to create a world like this and #ImagineEquality we must first unlearn the biased beliefs we have been brought up with. Stecia asserts that we must leave behind the sexist beliefs we hold which leave women marginalized in her community. She asserts that we should “unlearn the belief that women are made to participate in reproductive activities”. She believes that we should, instead, “empower women to become people who can economically develop the world” so that they can support themselves and the world independently.
The power and wisdom of Stecia’s words remind us that age is not always a good indicator of a person’s abilities. When asked about how she has grown to become such a strong activist, she praises the influence of Nabukenya Sophie. Plan International appointed Sophie as a Global Youth Mentor to Stecia where she shared invaluable advice and guidance to her. Stecia describes her as an “iron lady” who acted as a role model to her and continues to inspire her throughout her activism. This showcases how important the work that Plan International is doing by providing children with the support they need to flourish within their communities.
Stecia’s activism is inspiring and encourages us to look at how we can fight for equality in our own communities. We must take a deeper look at what gender equality means to us and work to ensure that women and young girls everywhere enjoy equal opportunities. Although Uganda is a long way away from home, we can still work together to help children like Stecia fight for justice. We can donate to organizations like Plan International, volunteer for developmental charities, and spread the message of young activists. However, our activism shouldn’t stop here when there is also work to do in our own country. We can fight to protect Irish women from the sexual violence and poverty that threatens our livelihoods. If we fight against the misogynistic beliefs and policies within our communities we could create the gender equal world Stecia dreams of.
For more information about PLAN International and their work on gender equality, visit https://www.plan.ie/
Featured Photo from PLAN International
This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin