In claiming lives and wreaking economic havoc throughout Africa, COVID-19 is placing an especially heavy burden on girls and women, primarily because their prominent role as caregivers (both in the workforce and at home) puts them on the frontlines of the pandemic response but also because they are more vulnerable to income and job loss as well as to domestic violence.
This appears to be the fraught setting in which Women Deliver – a leading global advocate for gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women – announced on Wednesday, June 10, 2020 its 2020 class of Young Leaders.
Totalling 300 young changemakers, the class includes 117 individuals from 26 African countries, who are committed to advancing gender equality, with a focus on economic empowerment, political participation, education, climate, gender-based violence, and other issues. The class represents a commitment to adolescents and marginalised groups, with nearly a third of the total number of Young Leaders identifying as LGBTQIA+ and 20% belonging to a religious or ethnic minority group in their country.
LGBTIQA+ stands forlesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual and many other terms (such as non-binary and pansexual).
The collective message of the Women Deliver Young Leaders from Africa is that, in the face of COVID-19 and other crises impacting women differently and often more severely than men, it is urgent and essential to mainstream gender in society´s response, and this, in turn, requires dedicated and informed leadership – particularly among groups that have been traditionally excluded.
“In Africa, the uneven damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to society and the economy demonstrates more dramatically than ever the need for a new approach to the continent´s growth and development – one that brings women and youth from the margins to the centre of planning and action,” said Vivian Onano, a Women Deliver Board Member and alumnus of the Young Leaders Programme. “The Women Deliver Young Leaders Programme is an excellent example of how we must cultivate dedicated leaders who are capable of bringing about this shift.”
The 117 Young Leaders from Africa focus on issues that range from sexual health to child trafficking in conflict zones. Among them are:
- Olorunisola (Sola) Rebecca Abe, a 28-year-old Nigerian journalist who reports on influential women that inspire change and speaks to young girls about menstrual hygiene and management. With schools closed due to COVID-19, Abe has turned to her online social media platforms to share important stories and resources.
- Liz Guantai, a 28-year-old Kenyan lawyer who trains and promotes participation and justice in human rights, HIV/AIDS, and gender equality issues with communities of faith, grassroots, and pastoral settings. With her in-person efforts postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19, she recently helped lead an online campaign around Menstrual Health Day – with joint multi-stakeholder efforts leading to a new Kenyan policy to address menstrual health challenges.
- Joseph (Ekow) Amoako-Atta, a 22-year-old gender advocate from Ghana, who – inspired by his mother’s entrepreneurship – wrote a novel and distributed it to young girls in rural communities. Since COVID-19, most of his advocacy efforts have moved online.
- Divina Stella Maloum, a 15-year-old Cameroonian student who leads children’s peace movements and advocates against child trafficking and exploitation in conflict zones. Since the pandemic, she has joined the African Youth Resilience Initiative Against COVID-19 to help mobilise children, youth, women, and civil society against the pandemic.
- Yidnekachew Mogessie, a 24-year-old Ethiopian doctor advocating for gender equality and youth-friendly reproductive health services. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, he has been a volunteer advisor for the Ministry of Health’s Adolescent and Youth Health Technical Working Group – helping to mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic on girls and women.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world that if we truly want to deliver health, wellbeing, and dignity for all, girls, women, and young people must be front and centre in emergency responses, in social and economic recovery efforts, and in how we strengthen our health systems for the long term,” said Katja Iversen, President/CEO of Women Deliver.
“As we witness young people responding to both new crises and old injustices, it’s clear their leadership is fundamental to meaningful change. The Women Deliver Young Leaders Program is here to partner with young people, elevate their leadership, amplify their voices, and share knowledge and resources during this unprecedented time and beyond,” she added.
This, according to Women Deliver, was the programme’s most competitive application process yet, with more than 5,600 applications from 167 countries for 300 spots – nearly double the applications received in the previous round.
Women Deliver said it selected all the Young Leaders for their potential to have a lasting impact on the lives of girls and women. It adds that, as a group, the leaders have already driven tangible progress on a wide range of issues, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, LGBTQIA+ rights, peace and security, water and sanitation, gender-based violence, education, climate and environment, political participation, and youth engagement.
As in past years, the 2020 class will receive training and resources that extend their influence and enhance their capacity to shape programmes and policies on the health and rights of girls, women, and young people. Since 2010, Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Programme has trained and supported 700 advocates, who are tackling the challenges that girls, women, and young people face in their communities and countries.