Demand more women in power: The inspiring stories of women and girls

Raquel Vásquez is leader of the grassroots organisation Madre Tierra (Mother Earth) in Guatemala

Stop Telling Half The Story

Right now, the world is in crisis. And now is the time to stop telling half the story.

It’s time to tell the story of women and girls speaking up about justice, about equality, about climate, about COVID.

Women like Raquel Vásquez, leader of the grassroots organisation Madre Tierra (Mother Earth). Started in 1993 during the civil war in Guatemala, Madre Tierra helped refugee women return home from Mexico. Now, under Raquel’s leadership, Madre Tierra is fighting back against the climate emergency. Raquel says:

There is a relationship between the Earth and women. They both feed the world, they both give life.

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Madre Tierra provides training to communities in adapting to the impacts of climate change – and crucially, women are in the forefront. Raquel says:

With the violence, discrimination and problems that women face, we have to be clear and understand that it is not something that we have been born with. It is a problem that society itself has been in charge of. But we can contribute a lot as young women to the processes of change and development of our communities.

Sékongo Dieneba runs a business producing shea butter in Côte d’Ivoire. She is the main breadwinner in her family and her income pays for her six children’s schooling and supplies. She is part of a women’s saving group in her village and she says:

I’m very proud to work together in our group. We are a team, we do everything together. It’s thanks to my group that I feel we have really advanced.

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Sékongo says:

A woman must get up and fight. When you start you will encounter difficulties. Stay focused on your goals and believe in yourself. When you succeed the same ones who were trying to discourage you will be on your side.

Khadija, a young girl in Somalia

Khadija (above; name changed to protect her identity) is a young girl in Somalia who learned how to stop the spread of COVID-19 as part of a CARE HBCC project (hygiene and behaviour change coalition, funded by FCDO and Unilever). She teaches other students and people in her community. She is a COVID champion in her community. She says:

“I learned coronavirus awareness at my school. Now I teach the other students the importance of preventing the spread of coronavirus. I also teach the same message to the community.

One of the challenges I face is people telling me: “There is no coronavirus here. What do you know? You’re a little girl.” But now they understand it’s a disease and they must be careful.

“When I educate people I feel happy and confident because they are my community and they don't have other people to provide this knowledge to them.”

Khawla Shaheen works in Jordan as a counsellor for CARE on reproductive education. Herself a child bride, she says:

When my youngest child turned five years old, I started to long for something more. I didn’t want to be home all day. I wanted to do something meaningful with my time.

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Khawla says:

“Our community has many issues, such as gender-based violence, child marriage, bullying and child labour. I was motivated to become a resource in my community and try to solve these issues.”

I learned so much from CARE’s training course. I learned how to become a leader and how to work with different challenges. It gave me a lot of confidence.

“Now, my work with youth is to answer any questions they may have. The most common question is about puberty. Some girls approach me with questions about how they can start making their own decisions.”

Gabriela María Portillo Rodríguez works with CARE in Honduras. The Prolempa project focuses on economic empowerment of women and young people – but as COVID-19 hit Honduras, they have adapted their work to the needs the pandemic has created. Gabriela says:

“There has been a great effort to the [COVID-19] response. We go to the communities to deliver food, cash transfers, and provide capacity building. In this emergency response we are doing a bit of everything: from food baskets, to providing toiletries for health and in the case of women, we have always prioritised access to key products such as sanitary pads that are scarce and expensive in these areas.”

Very few times have I seen women’s needs prioritised and in this project, we have made them a priority.

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Gabriela says:

“For me, it has been a great experience. I am happy that CARE supports women leaders so they can help in preventing COVID spreading in their community.”

It is such a reward to see these women so confident in themselves. I am proud of the approach we have taken to create a visible impact [because] what matters here are people’s lives.

Fanta Bocoum has had to overcome difficult obstacles in her life, but now she is an inspiration to many. As a member of a women’s union in her village in Mali, she is a strong advocate for women’s land rights.

In Fanta’s village, land is the main means of production and its access guarantees all other underlying rights, such as the use and control over food and non-food resources. She says:

The land is everything to us. Without her, we cannot live. But she became more vulnerable. I invested in it, financial and physically, to improve its quality. But the land that women cultivate does not belong to them. That is why I fight.

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Fanta says:

“When women have rightful ownership of land, they can securely invest in it and communities become more resilient. This isn’t [just] a women’s issue. To make change men and women have to have the same outlook.”

And that’s what we fight for. I’m using my voice and it’s working.

Jeanne Sekongo and a group of women in the Ivory Coast

Jeanne Sekongo (above) is a successful businesswoman in Côte d’Ivoire. She left school at 15 and started her first enterprise when she was 24 years old.

She based the idea on her own experiences with access to education. She wanted all young girls to have access to opportunities so she set up a women’s association and farming union, UCOVISA: Grande Productrice de Mais (roughly translated as ‘great female producers of corn’). UCOVISA now has 18,000 member, 90% of whom are women. Jeanne says:

You need to be strong. You mustn’t be afraid. You need to push ahead, even when you encounter problems.

“I took risks, I dared, and this is what drove me to who I am today. I am now a role model in my region. I tell women – if you want it, you can have it.”

I enjoy being a role model because I can share my success with other women and support them. I am happy because now all the women I meet want to be like me!

Join us to #March4Women

In 2021, as the world plans its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and faces up to the imminent climate catastrophe, it’s time to raise your voice with women around the world and demand a say in the decisions that matter.

Join us in telling the world you want the whole story. Join us to demand more women in leadership and more women in power.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.