Young Women as Active Agents of Social Change

Sheripher Dinala

What kind of work do you do? My work is mostly centered on young women and girls’ empowerment. I work with women and men of all ages. My goal is to make sure that young women and girls are empowered to make informed decisions about their lives. I would like to see young women occupying those spaces deemed as a no-go zone because they are women. My mission is to make sure that there is equality and equity in the world and social justice for everyone.

What inspires your work? I live in a society in which mostly young women and girls need to negotiate for their spaces. Most young women and girls cannot make decisions for their own lives; someone else does it for them without any regard for what this results to. In my community most women do not have access to political, social, economic, and technological spaces. This is not the world I envision; I envision a society in which men and women are treated equally as human beings regardless of their gender. Therefore, as part of my civic participation I made a decision to contribute towards the world I want: a better place for everyone.

How can young women be active change agents in their communities? For young women to be the agents of change it should begin with us. We need to take an initiative to make sure that we break social constructions and start holding conversations with those in power and those affected by this power. Power is too political; hence we need to understand the types of power we are dealing with. We need to start these conversations with our fellow young women and girls so that they can understand themselves.We need also to engage in conversations with those in power so that they can understand us.

We don’t need to belong to an organization to engage in community development, we can do it at a personal level. We can take initiative in community development by working with our local communities. For example, as individuals we can mobilize our fellow young people and orient each other on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the role we can play in implementing these goals. We can create a social media group to update each other on the role we are playing in community development, challenges we are facing and finding solutions together. This can also be a learning platform to borrow a leaf from our fellow young people in instituting change. These are just examples but a few in how young women can be active agents of change in their communities

Where should young women interested in community development work start? Community development work starts from within. As young women what are we doing to change our communities? Let us find our own drive for change and share this drive with our fellow young people. In togetherness there is power. The late Dr. Malunga once said “Ants united can take an elephant to its cave.” What am trying to point out is if we as young women unite, we can achieve and create the world we want. We are talking about agenda 2030 and agenda 2063, as young women what are we doing to make sure that we are not left behind on issues of development in our community? These are blue prints whereby we can start questioning ourselves in finding gaps in our communities and taking a lead in making sure that these agendas become reality.

Given the inequalities that women face; how can women working in community development negotiate biases and challenges that arise based on their gender? We need to claim spaces (political, social, technological and economical). For example, in Malawi we have a gender act which calls for 40/60 or 60/40 ratio in all leadership positions. Young women can claim for their right, as well as for other women, to make sure that the law has been enforced. At the international level, we have instruments like the SGDs and the 2063 Agenda which advocate for gender equality. These can be used as a basis in negotiating biases and challenges that arise due to our gender. Also, there is need for possession of necessary resources and tools. The community we serve can trust us young women if we have proper education, relevant information, skills, and capabilities.

In your experience, how does society react to women being active change agents? In my experience, I have worked well with different communities. We always have a good relationship to the extent that they always look forward to my next visit.  My work has always been centered on women empowerment; therefore most women are always happy because I act as their role model. As a young woman they are always thrilled in a way that a young woman can be in their midst and have a conversation on issues of development.

However, I have heard other women facing challenges in their work. Therefore, I would say it depends on the community one is serving; some are receptive while others are not. In some communities it is a challenge in the sense that they expect you to behave in a certain way that they believe is acceptable in their community. Sometimes you are not recognized because you are a woman.

What are the main challenges that women working in community development face? The main challenges that women working in community development is first of all lack of resources. These resources can be in form of financial resources, skills, capabilities and access to relevant information. Another challenge is that most often people expect you to belong to an organization to do development work. Therefore it becomes a challenge for people in a community especially community leaders to trust you with your work.

How can we address these challenges? The most important tool for community development is to equip oneself with required skills, capabilities and seek for more information through research or reading extensively. For example, the community will need someone to address them with excellent public speaking skills; someone who will be able to stand and articulate their problems and seek the solutions for the problems together.

Secondly oftentimes people engage in community development without the community they are serving. Therefore, community engagement is a very important tool for addressing challenges in community development. By increasing the level of community participation in the process, you’re increasing community buy-in and likelihood that they’ll see the project through to the end. When people feel involved in the process, they are more likely to stay involved for the long term.

Financial challenges can be overcome by coming up with different creative fundraising ideas. You don’t need to wait for a donor for your cause. If you have organizations supporting your idea that is great but with financial uncertainties around the world, it is advisable that we come up with creative ideas on how to source funds.

What resources should young women harness to make their activism more effective? First, the most important resource for activism is education. Education can be in different forms. The other important resource is information. Before we start engaging ourselves in activism we need to have more information and be well conversant with the cause we are fighting for. Thirdly, networking is a useful resource for activism.

Any final remark? You don’t need to have all the money in the world to see the change you want. If you have passion to contribute towards social justice, just do it. Use the locally available resources at your disposal. If we want to see the SDGs and Agenda 2063 become a reality let us take action now. This is the decade for women; let us embrace it and be part of people who want to make the world a better place for everyone.

It begins with me, it begins with you, and it begins with us!

Sheripher Dinala is the founder Young Women and Girls Movement for Development, co-founder Center for Youth and Development Malawi, a member African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), a member MoVe- a young women’s movement for justice and development and the deputy team leader of NAYD’s Malawi Team. You can tweet her via @sheridinala
(Picture courtesy of Sheripher)