Having recently received her bachelor’s degree from Kampala International University she chose to use her own celebration as a platform to bring local and international light to the issue of girls’ access to education.
Maureen Oduor is a Women Deliver scholarship beneficiary and Young Leader who traveled back to her village in Kenya, where most girls hardly finish primary school, to share her message. And this is her story:
My journey began when I was only 16. It was 2001 and I was in high school when I witnessed 20 girls get expelled for becoming pregnant. I remember carrying a bleeding girl in my arms for nearly 5 miles to catch a bus to the hospital. She died upon arrival. Her death was due to complications from an unsafe abortion. This was a turning point for me, and I have been advocating for the sexual and reproductive rights of girls ever since.
In my village – Udin, Kenya – 40 percent of girls are partially or totally orphaned. Most are born to parents without a high school education. Girls face the harshest living conditions with the highest pregnancy and school dropout rates. Many are married and have become mothers before the age of 18. Unfortunately, education for girls is not viewed as a priority and even those who have access to secondary education are trained and viewed as brides, which hinders their own quest for education.
While we know that keeping girls in school beyond 7th grade makes them more likely to postpone marriage, have fewer and healthier children themselves and to send those kids to school, girls around the world are lacking positive role models to show them the way. Adolescent girls need mentors, examples to emulate, and the resources to build an effective social network. And that is precisely what I have set out to do.
In 2010, I was selected to join Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, an opportunity to attend conferences and networking opportunities, sharpen my skills as an advocate and social activist, and gain valuable tools to be an agent of change for my community.
During my time as a Young Leader, it has been my privilege to travel to global events representing young women around the world. I have had the opportunity to change policies that block pregnant girls from attending school in Tanzania, and connect with hard-to-reach girls about reproductive goods and services using mobile technology in stigmatized areas where family planning remains taboo. I have helped to increase access to reusable sanitary towels as a viable way for girls to stay in school longer and bridge the gender gap in education. My work, however, is far from over.
By opening my own celebration to others, I hope that stakeholders and others in the community will contribute to the education of a village girl. I have seen firsthand the strength that remains untapped not just in Udin, but all over the world. Girls and women are ready to be the leaders of change.
I ask all who read this to join me in my dream. A dream of a world where young women have access to affordable and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information and services. A world where family planning services penetrate the hardest-to-reach markets effectively and consistently. A world full of proper and meaningful investment to bridge gender inequalities, especially for girls and women. I shall stand and demand, shout again and again until my voice and the voices of all girls are heard and action is taken. I hope you join me.