By Bread for the World Institute staff
August 12 is International Youth Day, and the generation that will lead efforts to end hunger and poverty by 2030 is a large one. About one-fourth of the entire global population, or between 1 and 2 billion people, is in the age group 10 – 24.
Children and youth have higher rates of hunger and less opportunity to participate in national economies and politics. The obstacles are most daunting for young women, who face the double burden of gender discrimination and marginalization as young people.
The United Nations established International Youth Day in 1999 as a way of focusing on legal, cultural, and economic challenges specific to young people.
Today we highlight three stories from the 2015 Hunger Report that celebrate bold young women leaders who are confronting the social norms and discrimination that perpetuate hunger, poverty, and exclusion among young people and women.
Fouzia Dahir, whose mother never learned to read, sees education as a launching pad. Fouzia grew up in rural Kenya, where poverty and gender based violence meant that most girls never advanced beyond primary school. But her mother was determined. She escorted Fouzia and her sisters to and from school, even staying with them during the school day to ensure their safety and full participation in class. That personal investment paid off for Fouzia in big ways. She excelled at school and continued on through high school, college, and finally graduate school. She’s now the founder and executive director of the Northern Organization for Social Empowerment, a nonprofit based in Northern Kenya that aims to create livelihoods based on farming for women from pastoral backgrounds.
Sara Howard was elected to the Nebraska State Legislature in 2012 — the youngest female senator and one of 10 women in the 49-member body. Sara feels she especially represents a younger generation of Nebraskans, with their concerns about student debt, low-wage work, and other issues that affect young people more than others. By the time Sara herself finished law school, she had accumulated more than $100,000 in student loan debt. Women use a greater share of their salaries than men to pay off education debt – not surprising since women are paid less than men. One result, however, is that women are less likely to raise the money to run for public office. Sara uses her position to help raise awareness and spur action on problems specific to women and young people.
Patience Chifundo believes there is no reason to deny women opportunities simply because they are women. Her mother lived this truth; she owned and drove a minibus, an unusual occupation for a woman in Malawi. Patience herself was a gifted student who began college at 15. She was the first female candidate for student body president. The discrimination and disparagement she suffered as a candidate fueled her determination to make things better for other female leaders. Though she never became student body president, Patience now works with the Young Politicians Union of Malawi, training women interested in running for elected office. They demonstrate how politics actually works at the grassroots level – and Malawi needs more elected leaders who prioritize issues such as children’s health and education.