Local heroines to inspire local people

Project Manager

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Despite challenges, Tirunesh is determined to continue her education

Selam Ayalew describes how documentaries starring young Ethiopian women are helping rural communities to reflect on women’s roles in society.

“…you showed us a girl selling tomato and changing her life. We want that girl here in Guguftu” an elderly man

A few weeks ago, I made a speech in Addis Ababa to a room full of mostly young people from universities and I asked the question “Who is your female heroine?”.  The answers were Oprah Winfrey and Empress Taitu (an Ethiopian icon from the 19th century).  When we asked the same question to young people in rural areas, they mostly named local girls from their community or nearby villages. This made me reflect on the importance of using local heroines or role models to encourage young girls to take action.

Prior to my talk in Addis, I had been in Gudino, a village in Oromia, where we were showing films and facilitating community conversations as part of our project: Catalysing the Girl Effect. I was very happy to see young boys and girls, as well as adults, excited to have one of the film’s ‘heroines’- Tirunesh -  in their village for the screening.  They asked her how she had managed to reach where she is now.  Tirunesh is one of four young women who star in 30-minute documentaries which explore their lives. The idea is to use their stories as a catalyst to stimulate discussion around girls’ issues and their role in their communities. .

Catalysing the Girl Effect centres on three concepts of gender empowerment: ‘voice’, where young girls opinions are heard in their communities, ‘value’, where those girls’ views and roles are valued and respected, and ‘agency’ where girls have control over their own actions.

By showing these rural girls someone they can relate to – it helps them really connect with and open up about some of the challenges they face, the ways they are trying to overcome their problems, and ultimately what their dreams might be. It is an approach we have been using to help explore traditional beliefs about the value of girls and encourage others to think: “If she can do it, I can do it”.

During our trip to Gudino we were joined by visiting British peer Baroness Tessa Blackstone, who reminded her audience, that 'girl power' is about 'community power':

"I want to say to young girls and older women - keep fighting for your rights, but I want to say to the men and boys please support them too. They are half the world and half your world.”

Baroness Blackstone’s comments  reminded me of a 13 year old I had met at a recent  community gathering.  She had the courage to stand up to an older male figure of authority, when she challenged the local administrator:

“No, you are underestimating the extent of the sexual harassment, rape and abduction we are facing. I am not exaggerating.  It happens. This is what we are facing and this is what needs to change.”

The young girls portrayed in the films did not achieve their changes by themselves. One way or the other they were getting support and encouragement from people around them. This is why the words of Baroness Blackstone were very important. And she was keen for those girls to aim straight for the top, when she said:  

“What you have to do is work hard, enjoy your life, serve your community, serve your country and somewhere in this class room there is Ethiopia’s first female Prime Minister!”

I hope so!

Related Links

The Nike Foundation - The Girl Effect 

Go back to BBC Media Action website

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