Lift Women Up

What Does Your New Normal Look Like?

A large portion of the country is reopening, and while that can signal a return to the office – at least part time – for many, it won’t be a return to “normal”. We’re going to be leaving our homes for a very different world. And while some people can’t wait for “things to get back to normal,” the question we need to be asking is, “Was that ’normal’ the best that we could do?”

Prior to the pandemic shutdown we were a society on the go. We were a schedule-driven, multitasking mob with goals, agendas, and very little downtime. We defined ourselves by doing, not by being, and wore our busyness like a badge of honor. We scheduled our kids, ourselves, our weekends, and our holidays. We scheduled it all and we were busy, busy, busy. That busyness came at a cost though, it was making us sick. Dr. Susan Koven, Massachusetts General Hospital, noticed the trend and wrote, “In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.”

However, early this year that busyness stopped – abruptly –and the time of the great reflection began. Why were we so busy? What did that busyness mean? Why did that busyness matter? And most importantly, what’s next? Our dilemma is global and can best be summed up by a piece of graffiti in Hong Kong that proclaims, “We can’t return to normal, because the normal we had was precisely the problem.”

While these past weeks have been traumatizing, in certain ways they’ve been a gift. We have been able to connect with our immediate and extended families; we’re consistently reaching out to neighbors and friends; we’re reengaging with our communities (from a distance), and we’re focusing on the people that make our lives full. We’re more mindful of our time; we’re focusing on self-care; we’re picking up old hobbies; we’re cooking; we’re making art, and while many of us are still working, we’re not traveling, networking, or engaging in the extraneous noise, or busyness of it all. We’ve been able to enjoy the quiet, and in some ways, are reluctant to let it go.

As we start to look at what’s next and define our new normal, we need to take stock of these past few weeks and evaluate what we want to take forward with us. Is it unscheduled weekends or daily walks? Is it a consistent focus on self care? Could it be a regular opportunity to make art? More time with friends? Or watching the sunset? Now – before the busyness sets in – it’s time to pause, take stock, and ask yourself what you really want. We’re all in this together and if we want to collectively benefit from these times, we need to support one another, be clear with our intentions, and define what we truly want our new normal to look like.

 

Girl Up Initiative Uganda is Changing Lives

Many young girls living in the urban slums of Kampala, Uganda, struggle with a lack of educational and economic opportunities. In a culture where a male’s education is prioritized, a disproportionate number of girls do not complete school, are often forced marry early, feel like they don’t matter, and lack the skills needed to contribute to their families, which lowers their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Monica Nyiraguhabwa was one of those young women struggling to complete her education until a chance encounter with Kimberly Wolf, a young American woman passionate about girls’ rights and leadership, changed everything. While their backgrounds and circumstances were different, they both related to the challenges that come with growing up as a girl in today’s world and the power of having someone believe in them.

Together, they dreamed up the idea of Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) after visiting Monica’s community and identifying the need to advance educational and economic opportunities for young women and adolescent girls in these slum areas. They named it “Girl Up” because they wanted the name of the organization to reflect their commitment to lifting girls out of a life of poverty and gender inequality. Just as boys are taught to “man up,” the two wanted girls to be taught to “girl up” and realize their power and strength as girls.

What started out as an idea with $100 seed money has grown into a movement in just eight short years. Each year, the number of girls and young women that GUIU helps increases as the organization grows. This year, Girl Up intends to directly help 15,000 girls and young women and equip them with the skills, knowledge, tools, and provide mentorship and support to develop their self-confidence and voice to thrive as leaders in their schools and communities.

“We aim to contribute to systematic change in the community by ensuring that girls are recognized as active agents of change,” Monica said. “By empowering girls, both individually and collectively, to challenge the patriarchal social order, they become spokespersons for girls’ rights and become drivers of systemic gendered change in the community.”

Girl Up has directly helped over 70,000 girls and young women through various programs since 2012 and encourages the girls and young women to share their learnings and acquired knowledge with others who do not benefit from the programs. The girls are also eager to use the leadership skills and confidence they have gained through the program to mentor other girls. Girl Up estimates that each girl will reach an additional five girls, creating positive ripple effects throughout their schools and communities.

Its mission is to create a gender equal world by equipping girls and young women with the confidence, mentorship, skills, and knowledge to reach their full potential. The organization currently has Coaches (facilitators) who not only train girls, but act as positive role models for at-risk girls. Programs include:

The Adolescent Girls Program

GUIU has run the Adolescent Girls Program (AGP) as its flagship program to advance the educational opportunities for adolescent girls aged 9-15 living in urban slum areas in Kampala since 2013. An in-school program, AGP focuses on building adolescent girls’ capacities for individual empowerment and social survival, especially in patriarchal environments that do not value and respect the rights of girls and women. It consists of a cluster of synergistic activities to ensure that girls receive the skills, knowledge, tools, mentorship, and support to develop their self-confidence and voice to thrive as leaders in their schools and communities.

The Big Sister Network

In 2016, GUIU launched The Big Sisters Network, as they recognized that graduates of the AGP needed continued support and opportunities to grow their leadership and influencing capacities. It now ensures that AGP alumni continue to access female- focused education and stay involved and engaged with GUIU and their fellow graduates. In 2019, GUIU realized one of its biggest organizational dreams – the Big Sister Camp – where 210 girls converged for a residential camp full of learning, laughing, and playing. It was a magical four days to honor and further develop the leadership potentials of our Big Sisters. In 2020, they plan to have another Big Sister Camp for 260 promising girl leaders.

Mazuri Designs Hub

Mazuri Designs Hub was first launched in 2015 in recognition of the limited economic opportunities for out-of-school young women in the communities GUIU works with. Uganda’s  70% youth unemployment rate leaves them financially dependent on men and struggling to support themselves and their families. Therefore, Girl Up launched a social enterprise to offer young women skills training that could provide them with a sustainable income. Today, the Mazuri Designs Hub training program offers a one-year vocational training course in fashion, design, and tailoring that is combined with entrepreneurial and personal skills training for young women, ages 16-35 years. The young women are trained by experienced tailors and given the opportunity to showcase their products at the fashion show graduation at the end of the course.  The project advances economic opportunities for the young women and has had a positive impact on their incomes. In GUIU’s 2019 post-project survey, 67% young women reported that their average weekly income had increased after participating in the program, all due to selling products they sewed.

Ni-Yetu Youth Program

GUIU has partnered with Plan International Uganda since 2015 to implement the Ni-Yetu Youth Project in all five divisions of Kampala. The aim of the project is to empower young people, ages 13-24 years, with correct knowledge, attitude and skills for reducing gender-based violence and improving their sexual and reproductive health and rights outcomes. The Ni-Yetu Youth Project is a gender transformative project that looks at challenging negative social norms and practices that affect SRHR outcomes amongst young people. It uses youth innovative approaches such as street theatre performances, youth-friendly health camps, peer-to-peer education, music campaigns, and sports outreaches. While the project reaches out to both genders, it benefits young women specifically by changing attitudes towards gender inequality in the communities they live in. Even though girls and women constitute GUIU’s focus group, the organization understands that boys and men must also be engaged in the fight for gender equality given that they are the other half of the equation when it comes to advancing girls’ rights and ending gender-based violence.

As Girl Up’s programs have grown over the years, their staff has too. “We are proud of the growth of our young, female-led, Ugandan team. Girl Up now employs 20 full time Ugandan staff, 76% of which are female and 85% under the age of 30 years. Providing employment and volunteer opportunities to aspiring and dedicated young Ugandans is an essential part of our mission and the way we work,” Monica said. “These vibrant young people make up the GUIU Dream Team – we dream together, create ideas together, and make change happen together! Each team member brings their own unique skills, talents, and ideas to enable the organization to grow and transform more lives.”

“We have achieved many exciting milestones, and I have been blessed to work in a job I am extremely passionate about. My biggest highlight is seeing the growth and development of our girls as they become powerful and confident young women in my community. Many of them are now in university and secondary school, and stay in touch with me. I love to see how GUIU has impacted their lives in positive ways,” Monica said. “Because I work in the same community that has seen me grow up, they are now seeing me in this position as a woman and a leader. I love going into the community to engage with the adolescent girls and tell them my story to inspire them to re-write their stories so they can achieve their dreams.”

Monica and Kimberly have garnered some international attention for their efforts too and have appeared on NBC’s The Today Show with Michelle Obama in 2018 (see here) and were invited to meet Oprah Winfrey at her home last year. Monica has also had the opportunity to speak up for girls through the Obama Africa Fellowship, Cordes Fellowship, iLEAP Fellowship, and African Visionary Fellowship with the Segal Family Foundation.

People can help Girl Up Initiative Uganda by following and sharing updates through social media platforms (@girlupuganda on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and by subscribing to their newsletter at www.girlupuganda.org. You can also support GUIU’s work to change the lives of young women and girls and donate to their cause at www.girlupuganda.org/donate.

How Sexism Blocks Women Candidates

When the final two top tier Democrat presidential candidates dropped out of the presidential race, it became clear that the primary qualification they lacked was being a white man. Some may claim it was a lack of support, and others may cite a lack of momentum, but few can point to a lack of qualifications. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, as well as the other women that initially joined them in their bid – namely Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamela Harris – are all more than qualified with a proven track record of leadership in local, state, and national government, except that no woman has ever been president. Until we see a woman in that position, sexism will continue to be a hurdle blocking women candidates from being President.

Looking at their qualifications and their overall electability, the odds are good that their struggles had very little to do with their platforms, and everything to do with their gender. Warren’s loss in particular brought home the fact that for the second time in four years, an exceptionally qualified female candidate lost to her male counterparts — some of whom were far less qualified.

Sexism was definitely a factor in this campaign. While it may not have been THE factor, it carried weight. Female candidates had to prove their qualifications more than the men they were up against, and they had to deal with increased media scrutiny and gender bias, and they faced greater issues surrounding likeability and voter perception on the campaign trail than their male counterparts. All of which of course, was further amplified via social media.

Warren spoke about the gender “trap” Thursday.

“Gender in this race — you know, that is the trap question for every woman,” Warren said after announcing she would be suspending her campaign. “If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner.’ And if you say, ‘There was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’”

Melissa K. Miller, a political science professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, told NBC News that this week’s events could make it harder for women running for president to succeed in the future. “Folks are convinced that a woman can’t win, so they don’t vote for a woman, thus ensuring that a woman doesn’t win, and the cycle continues. The reality is that a woman can win. Hillary Clinton’s victory by about 3 million popular votes in 2016 made that clear.”

Apparently, America isn’t ready for a woman president. However, it’s important to remember that we still have a number of women running down the ballot that can run their races and win, and they need our support. The first thing we can do is recognize the fact that gender bias is alive and well in politics, and the women running (and serving) now know it and face it every day. It is our responsibility to call out the comments that seek to undermine them, name them as biases and talk about them. To help more women represent us at every level we need to encourage them, counteract the public ridicule they often face, and offer them our support. Their courage and willingness to work hard to solve the issues that can make the world a better place for all of us is admirable and necessary. They are paving the way for that woman who will finally break through the sexism bias and become our first woman president.

To Get More Women in Leadership It’s Time to Take The Lead

“When women support one another, we can create massive ripples of change that create better lives for everyone.” – Gloria Feldt

Over the past five years, the number of women in senior leadership has grown. Still, women continue to be underrepresented at every level. Why? For starters, women are less likely to be hired and promoted to manager. In fact, for every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. As a result, men hold 62% of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38%. The number of women decreases at every subsequent level, reducing to a minuscule 5% at the CEO level.

That’s where organizations like Take The Lead Women can create real change. Designed for women ready to take ownership of their careers (and lives), Take The Lead gives women the tools they need to up their game with 9 Leadership Power Tools courses, 50 Women Can Change the World programs, Virtual Happy Hours, leadership coaching and much more.

This week in Scottsdale, Arizona, Take The Lead celebrates progress with the Power Up Conference: 50 Women Can Change the World 2.0, spotlighting their work to teach, mentor, coach, invigorate, and inspire women who are committed to owning their power and using their voice to become influential leaders of change. The conference will offer two full days of learning, and participants will experience extraordinary leadership development including workshops, panel discussions, lightning talks, accelerated roundtable discussions, and networking.

Take the Lead was founded in 2014 by Gloria Feldt and Amy Litzenberger, with the bold mission to reach leadership gender parity by 2025. That’s 70 to 150 years faster than the prevalent projections. Gloria is certain that this is the moment when a quantum leap to parity can occur. She is convinced that through Take the Lead’s uniquely effective programs, based on solid research and measurable results, women will embrace their phenomenal power to lead with purpose, confidence, intention and joy – without fear or apology.

Dr. Nancy currently serves as Take The Lead’s board chair, and Women Connect4Good, Inc., which supports women helping women networks, is proud to support Take The Lead and help them equip women with the tools they need to achieve parity by 2025.  That partnership not only advances women into leadership positions across all sectors, it proves our power   to transform women’s leadership when we work together.

To learn more about Take The Lead and the upcoming Power Up Conference, go to www.taketheleadwomen.com.

It Is Time to Lift Women Up!

Lift Women UpWomen have long been the drivers of change in our communities, and lifting them up into positions where they can make the world a better place benefits all of us. Our history is built on women’s work as powerful leaders, passionate advocates, and dedicated forces for change. Right now, we’re perfectly positioned to become leaders in the communities we call home, in the workplace, and in the world.

Today in the dawn of a new decade it is time for women to come together, amplify each other and fully step into our power. To further that, Dr. Nancy O’Reilly and the team at Women Connect4Good, Inc., are launching an exciting new campaign, Lift Women Up, which will focus on the steps — big and small— that we all can take to continue marching towards gender parity.

Over the course of the campaign – which will coincide with the release in March of a new documentary featuring Dr. Nancy’s work championing women’s equality and advancement – we will ask women to share their stories of how women sponsor, mentor and help each other, and in turn, inspire more women to do the same.

We Lift Women Up when we:

  • Support women running for office with our time, treasure, or talent.
  • Sponsor, mentor, or help a woman get her foot in the door at work.
  • Work together to close the pay gap and raise women and girls out of poverty.
  • Train and elevate women to leadership positions.
  • Engage our #maleallies to build an environment where every person – regardless of gender – is valued, respected, and equally compensated.

Throughout the year while the documentary airs on PBS, we’ll highlight different influential women and their powerful stories to inspire our audience to #LiftWomenUp in their everyday lives, as well as moving stories of everyday heroes who make their corner of the world brighter. Each month we’ll be introducing an issue that impacts women greatly, and in our newsletter we’ll also share easy, actionable steps that we can all take to lift the women in our own lives.

Join us, and together let’s #LiftWomenUp, step into our power, and claim equality for all!

 

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