This article was posted in Ms Magazine on June 14, 2016 by Achie Gezahegne, Rise Up Girl Leader (Let Girls Lead is an initiative of Rise Up, which advances health, education and equity for girls, youth and women everywhere).
I still have a vivid memory of a room filled with over 35 girls, each with her own powerful ideas, strong presence, and remarkable depth. We all came together for a Let Girls Lead training with the aim of solving the problems facing girls in Ethiopia. But little did we know that the event would come to redefine our perceptions of the power of girls.
The strength of our voices together was contagious. I felt amazed not only at what I observed before me, but also imagining what was possible. The power to question, speak, refuse and fight was innate, though buried in social and ethical barriers. Our power had been covered by fear, struggle and abuse. My own power was obscured in a web of economic and social burden, traditional barriers, expectations and stereotypical misrepresentations.
From the girls' training to the Ethiopia National Girl Summit to the World Government Summit in Dubai, Rise Up enabled me to go on the journey of a lifetime to represent Ethiopian girls. I held discussions in schools to get the perspective of others like me, I traveled to New York for the Commission on the Status of Women, and I returned to Ethiopia to participate in the global Financing for Development (FFD) meeting, all to advocate for girls' rights and potential. The FFD meeting offered a hands on experience in the development of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as I and other Rise Up girl leaders spoke with delegates, ambassadors, local and international ministers and policy makers, UN officials, all of whom had a say in the negotiation, development and approval of the SDGs.
We, as girl leaders fighting for other girls in Ethiopia and around the world, set out to contribute to the process of putting girls at the center of these global goals for 2030. I believe we have succeeded.
After the adoption of the SDGs in September of 2015 with girls at the center, the next steps are integration and implementation. The coming fourteen years will delineate a new outline for the world if these ambitious goals are strengthened by potent implementers and joint contribution from governments, civil societies and the people of the world.
In my own way of being a part of this and continuing with what has been a very rewarding experience, I am going to finish my undergraduate degree in either Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering or Civil and Environmental Engineering - fields not usually encouraged for women. Then I want to join in my country's journey of eradicating poverty. Hand in hand with others, I would like to start up an institution to help girls defeat their challenges by peer counseling, mentorship, guidance, and training.
I am optimistic that by 2030, girls will take a step forward in transforming communities at the national and international level. In Ethiopia by 2030, I want to see girls dressed in their traditional wear going to school safe and filled with hope, never having to choose between being an Ethiopian girl and being successful. I want to see an Ethiopia where girls' education is not hindered by harmful traditional practices or cultural beliefs that force girls to follow in the footsteps of their mothers. I want to see the eradication of female genital mutilation and child marriage.
I believe with strong implementation and government dedication, with the inclusion of girls in policy making, 2030 will be the start of a new era in Ethiopia in the consolidation of democracy and realization of national goals. It will mean taking one more step forward in the journey of transformation from a world of male domination to a world dominated by good ideas, and by women and men working together to implement them.
Achie Gezahegne Gebre is a graduating high school honor student from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia who has volunteered for the Young Women's Christian Association of Ethiopia for two years, in coordinator and leadership positions for diverse programs. She is an award-winning essayist dedicated to advancing the rights of women and girls in education and health.
Rise Up advances the education health and equity of girls, youth and women everywhere. Rise Up unifies the power of Let Girls Lead, Champions for Change and the Youth Champions Initiative, to benefit 115 million girls, youth, and women globally.