Not all sheroes wear capes. This International Women’s Day, we’d like to share stories of women who are making change happen in their communities in diverse ways. From making menstrual hygiene supplies more accessible, to challenging gender stereotypes and pursuing non-traditional careers, they are pushing the agenda of gender equality forward, without even knowing it.
We would like to celebrate and recognize these women today because while their efforts may seem small they are mighty, and the impact will be felt for generations to come.
Lucky – Bangladesh
It may seem hard to imagine, but menstrual hygiene awareness and support can play a key role in determining girls’ fates.
“Low-cost, hygienic napkins are not available here,” says Lucky, a local community member. “Many women are embarrassed and do not know proper menstrual hygiene care, which often causes illnesses.”
We have been helping women and girls (aged 14-18) kickstart their own hygiene-boosting businesses, like SaniMarts, which are now popping up across rural communities. Participants receive training and materials to create effective, low-cost sanitary pads – and turn a profit.
“Plan International extended its support to us through the Because I am a Girl project,” explains Lucky. “They gave us all we need to start a sanitary pad business. Fifteen adolescent girls now work with me and we produce thousands of napkins a week. From each packet we make a profit.”
Like teenagers around the world, SaniMart members spend 1-2 hours per day at their afterschool job, successfully producing an average of 4,000 pads each month. The benefits have been two-fold: the business serves as a source of income helping support financial independence, while the products provide the chance to stay healthy, in class and active within the community.
“Now I make an income and can spend a large portion of it on caring for my children and family,” says Lucky. “We are hopeful that one day our small initiatives will turn into a large enterprise.”
SaniMarts are opening up improved health, economic and educational opportunities. They’re also putting the decision-making power surrounding women’s health issues right where it should be: in the strong and capable hands of the women and girls themselves!
Fatu – Sierra Leone
How important is a girl’s right to education?
Just ask Fatu, she’s a former sponsored child from Sierra Leone who has blossomed into a strong, successful and empowered woman, thanks to the power of education!
In fact, Fatu’s life story could’ve been very different had Plan International not been working in Freetown in 1981, or had her then-neighbour not been a Plan International staff member who suggested that Fatu become a sponsored child.In Sierra Leone, the barriers to girls’ education are many. Stories of early and forced marriage are far too common. In fact, according to recent reports, 13% of women in Sierra Leone are married by age 15, while 39% are married by 18.
Hailing from a poor family, Fatu seemed destined to follow a similar path as many girls before her but because of her sponsorship, 12-year-old Fatu was able to start attending school and begin building what would soon become a bright future for herself and her family.
“I am still thankful every day for what they did for me, and so are my two sisters and two brothers and the other children from our neighbourhood in Freetown” says Fatu. “My mother did not go to school, neither did generations before her. I was the first girl in the family who could continue to learn.”
With education came opportunity and Fatu successfully landed a job with the Sierra Leonean Foreign Office, which enabled her to work abroad, support her family, and invest in her own daughter’s education.
“My daughter has just finished her Master’s. I am so proud of her” says Fatu, with a smile. “Educating girls repays the investment many times over.”
Fatu’s education has opened many doors and she’s determined to share her success and help others. “You have to pass on luck and success” says Fatu, a belief that inspired her to create the Angels to Angels foundation, which supports over 200 schoolchildren in Sierra Leone.
Within the next 3 years, Fatu plans to build a school that will emphasize girls’ education, “then the circle of luck will be complete” she says, with tears in her eyes.
For Fatu’s daughter, Michaela, her mother has always been an incredible inspiration. “What my mother did was amazing” says Michaela, “Success is the impact you have on the lives of others, and she has definitely achieved that success.”
Bibata – Burkina Faso
Bibata has a dream.
“I want to become the most prominent female entrepreneur in Burkina Faso,” she says.
And Bibata is already well on her way to realizing her dream through her own plumbing business. Along the way, she’s also challenging local gender stereotypes!
Born in the Ivory Coast, Bibata became pregnant as a teenager – a reality that disappointed her parents so much that they sent her to Burkina Faso to live with her grandmother. “It was my punishment,” she says.But living in an entirely new country didn’t deter Bibata from pursuing her education. She sold peanuts and mangoes to pay for evening classes, and eventually passed her primary school final exam.
Shortly afterward, Bibata found out about Plan International’s vocational training for youth and immediately applied to learn skills to become a plumber. During this time, she continued taking her evening classes and simultaneously learned about plumbing while also achieving her high school diploma.
After completing high school and Plan International’s training, Bibata began working as plumber – the only female plumber in her town – and today, she works for herself!
As a successful entrepreneur with a growing plumbing business, Bibata employs two young people just like herself, but still faces professional challenges due to the fact that she is a woman in a male-dominated field. Often, potential customers will ask to date her in return for work contracts or make jokes about her professional skills.
“I stop them by asking then if they would dare behave this way if I was a man,” she says.
“I am proud of Bibata. She has broken down barriers for those who previously thought the plumbing profession was reserved for men,” says Rotimy Djossaya, Regional Director for Plan International Burkina Faso.
Binta – Guinea-Bissau
When Binta started working for Plan International in Guinea-Bissau, no one knew she used to be a sponsored child.
In fact, it took months before her colleagues discovered that Binta was one of the first sponsored children in the country, and that our programming had played a key role in helping her overcome barriers that many girls face in Guinea-Bissau.
Binta grew up in the Bafata region, a region with high dropout rates and where girls faced many challenges to reaching their full potential, including early/forced marriage, teen pregnancy, and limited access to sexual and reproductive health services. Binta’s community also practiced the harmful tradition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and prioritized boys’ education over that of girls.
But life changed for Binta when she became a Plan International-sponsored child. Binta’s sponsor emphasized girls’ education and, without this, Binta admits she would not have been inspired to achieve her goals and finish her education.
Through her child sponsor and with the help of our gender equality programming, Binta blossomed into an ambitious and self-assured woman who didn’t see her gender as an obstacle to success.
Having been empowered to make her own dreams come true, Binta is a role model for all girls who grow up in tough environments, and she is extremely proud to be working for Plan International.
Binta is currently working on creating a brighter future for girls like her and is tackling the issue of FGM by helping to implement projects and assist others in fighting back against this harmful practice. Her goal is to create positive, lasting change in the communities where girls are most affected.
“I want to make a valuable contribution and change people’s way of thinking in relation to girls for the development of our society,” she says.
Onxai – Laos
Every day since her husband’s death five years ago, Onxai has gone to the field to work so she can single-handedly support her two daughters, Bouachanh and Pheng. She is strong, compassionate and is raising her girls to pursue and value their education but also give back to their community.
“Mostly we rely on our rice and corn yields for food, income and to sell for my daughters’ schooling,” Onxai shares. Through our local programs, Bouachanh got a scholarship and had the chance to attend school. The scholarship was exciting for Bouachanh but also helped alleviate some financial burden for Onxai.
“My life is easier after getting a scholarship. Last month I got the second highest test scores in my class. My family and I are very proud of that.”
“The scholarship is extremely useful,” adds Onxai. “She can have new school uniforms and school materials. It is very meaningful for poor families who can’t afford schooling. I think it sparks their dreams.”
“I think education can change things, especially improving our lives by breaking the poverty circle that we face,” adds Pheng.
Plan International is working to make education more accessible for children and part of that work includes talking to parents and community members about the value of education and why it is a good idea to invest in it. “Every time I participate in the meetings held by Plan International, I recognize the significance of education for girls,” says Onxai.
Onxai’s is committed to getting her daughters educated but she has also been inspired to help uplift others and together, with the help of her daughter is volunteering her time to be a part of local development projects.
She’s instilling in them the values of paying it forward.
“I have a dream to be a doctor so I can save others’ lives. I would like to help people.” – Bouachanh.
“In the future, I hope I can be a good teacher and support my mother. I’d also like to find some extra income for my community so that they can support their children’s schooling too.” – Pheng
Support Women and Girls Empowerment
These sheroes have been supported through a variety of our programs. You can learn more about them and see how you can help change lives for women and girls around the world.