Stories of amazing women who are 'Choosing to Challenge' for International Women's Day.

Victoria Kinkaid, UK 

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I owe a lot of my feminist ideas to Girl Guiding.

My main goal now is women’s empowerment. I started a podcast over lockdown called @Virago_Voices which is all about empowering women . The podcasts aren’t very long, they're just me chatting with women about their goals and achievements and encouraging people to reach out through my direct messages to ask questions.  It has been a really good platform and is really exciting as my newest challenge.

As a medical professional, I also realised that I have a lot of medical knowledge that I can share with other women, so I decided to start a side branch of my podcast called Virago Health. It's all about giving women the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their own healthcare. I think this is so important because sex education in schools in the UK is not up to standard at all: women don’t know they need to get their smear test or breast examination. This is a failing of our society. Women deserve access to information that will empower them to make good choices.

I think that if there’s anything women see or experience in their life that they don’t agree with then they should challenge it. The small things seem so insignificant, so it’s the challenge of challenging that. It's not easy but it's how we fight for equality in this generation. International Women’s Day always gets me emotional because I think about how we stand on the shoulders of all the incredible women that have come before us and some of them have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. For me, this is just honestly so beautiful, and I am so grateful to them. I feel like as women in this generation, we owe it to the women that have come before us and to the women that will come after us to keep fighting and to challenge stereotypes and misogyny.

Esther Oluwakemi, 24, Nigeria 

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All my life, right from my primary school , I have been bullied about my stature because I am not fat, as an average Nigerian girl should be.

Sometimes I wish that I came as an animal to this world and not a human. You know when bullying got to a stage, you get so depressed, and you start thinking about so many things. You wake up in the morning and the first thing that comes to your mind 'is you're not fat, you’re skinny’. I felt like I wasn't good enough. I thought what is my relevance in this world, what am I doing here when nobody appreciates who I am?

But not anymore, if anybody should see me and say you are not growing fat. I tell them I am free, and I love it. Dove and WAGGGS 'Free Being Me' and 'Action on Body Confidence' programmes have helped to boost my confidence. I brought everything I had learnt together to write my story and speak up. I reach others that we are all beautiful the way we look and I try to share some of my experiences with girls who are still in primary and secondary school because we need to reach them when they are young.

If I knew about the Free Being Me programme when I was younger, I would have done so many things better. I now go anywhere I can, to find girls and young women to speak with about body confidence and self-esteem. I also train older women in the local area because as we should also educate the adults as they can bully young girls about the way they look. The teaching that I do has helped me to develop myself and to boost my self-esteem.

Isabella Caldas, 21, Brazil 

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I participated in the Juliette Low Seminar (JLS), WAGGGS' flagship leadership development event for young people, in 2019 and it was one of the best experiences of my life

However before I went, lots of people told me ‘you shouldn’t go, it will be too dangerous'. But travelling internationally to go to an event was one of my biggest dreams, so I decided that I wasn't going to give up. I think that one of the reasons that I was so determined to go was because of the Girl Guides. We are always saying don’t give up, raise your voice and it made me feel like I couldn't give up on this.

I ended up going and met girls from all over the world. We had some amazing experiences volunteering together. It was my first international trip.

I am from Brazil and it is one of the only countries that has boys in the Girl Guides. We are not really called Girl Guides here but it doesn’t have a translation to English so when I got to JLS, I realised that the Girl Guides from all the other countries are used to having a girl-only space.

This is not a reality for me and for any of the girls in Brazil. We have more boys than girls in the Girl Guides here. It’s a strange thing to say but it's true. JLS also got me thinking, why do we have so many men and boys in positions of leadership if we are in the Movement of girls?

I started thinking about that, and it changed my whole game as a coordinator. Now I'm trying to empower the girls to take up the leadership positions and try to make the boys understand why they need to give space to the girls.

The biggest issue for me is gender inequality. Because it's not something we often talk about, so I’m trying to pester my Girl Guides to let them know they have a voice, and that they are a priority.

Brazil is a very sexist country and that is something that you notice here. But I have a lot of hope in the generations to come. I want the girls to feel as empowered as the boys. I am the living proof of this. I can do anything that a guy can do. This is what I’m trying to teach my Girl Guides.

If I could give one piece of advice to all the girls and women of the world it would be to not underestimate yourself. You may not have the knowledge, you may not have the training, you may not have anything, but if you have the will to learn and if you feel empowered that you can do literally anything.

Faith Banda, Zambia 

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I have been a Girl Guide in Zambia since 2010 and I am not planning to stop anytime soon.

When I was growing up, people used to make fun of me. They used to intimated me and I felt so uncomfortable. It became a challenge for me because I could not pass anywhere without anyone making a comment about my body.

I mean that’s a huge challenge especially today because lots of us have thoughts about what we want to do, our dreams, our goals, but because of body dissatisfaction, we are bullied and or self-esteem is very low.

You think you cannot do anything because of your body. I faced a lot of challenges in that area. But Free Being Me is one of the projects that has really helped me. I realised that I don’t need to be anybody else, I don’t need to be fat for me to be able to do whatever I want to do. I realised I could just compliment myself and that I was beautiful the way I was. I came to realise and understand as I grew up that we are all different, we are unique, and we can use this difference to get to where we want to go. I just need to be confident enough to speak up for everyone and stand up for myself because I have accepted who I am.

It’s one of the projects that I really want to grow into as much as I can and I really want to reach out to a lot of girls to help them too. My body will not stop me from being who I am or from reaching my goals. I think a lot of girls out there need to know this, and they need to accept this. They need to love themselves the way they are.

I shared my story with my Guiding association in Zambia and when I went for my Girl Guiding exchange in Madagascar, and I will continue to share my story so I can help others who are going through what I went through.

Sophie Nelson, UK 

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When I was 16, I saw an opportunity to apply to be a Girl Guiding advocate with Girlguiding UK. I remember thinking I must go for this, there is nothing that would sum up what I would love to do more than this role.

As my time as an advocate progressed, I realised that getting involved with campaigns and speaking out about issues was something that I really wanted to continue.

Then in 2017 one of my fellow Girlguiding advocates shared a news story about how 1 in 10 girls were experiencing period poverty in the UK and that they were missing school because of it. It was having a huge impact on their education and their self-confidence and the way they went about their lives. We thought this was an amazing opportunity to raise awareness and for the government to pay attention so I took part in a protest outside No.10 Downing street, calling on the government to scrap the tampon tax and introduce free period products in schools.

Later in 2018 I realised that there was a lot of stigma around how young women dealt with period poverty, and how young women felt about having periods so I asked my Guide Leader to let me run a session on period poverty to try to break down the stigma. The whole session was completely tense, there was real shame around it being discussed and some people did not want to talk out. What does that tell you about how we feel as women having periods and how educated we are?

In the same year I also presented at the Northern Ireland Teachers Conference and was again met with a lot of traditional perspectives on periods. I remember putting up an image on the screen , and saying it was one of my pet peeves that when period product companies were delivering adverts they used this blue like substance instead of blood.

One of the women stood up and said, ‘well I just think that is disgusting, and that is shameful that you are promoting that.’ I said to her ‘actually it's really important that young women see the realities of this because when they don’t, it often has really detrimental consequences on their health and how they feel about themselves and how they react to getting their period’. It was a real eye opener in terms of how people still hold such traditional perspectives around periods and bleeding.

As of September 2021 however, all school girls in England will have access to free period products which I like to think Girlguiding UK has played a role in bringing about. I count it as a real success that we were able to bring the issue to light and campaign around it and hopefully have helped a lot of young women in the UK.

Madhu Shree, India

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I am from South India and I have been in Guiding for three and half years.

The name of my project is First Step. It aims to reduce child marriage in India where because of poverty, many of the girls are married or engaged at a young age. I plan to go to remote areas and also visit schools, colleges and people’s homes, where we must educate the parents because if we educate the parents, the reduction will happen faster.

I would like to ask some of the people that I meet to join me as volunteers too so they can support the reduction of child marriage. If I educate 2, 2 will educate 4, and 4 will educate 8!

Monique Santovito, Australia 

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My Guide Leaders are like family now. Girl Guides as an organisation gave me that opportunity.

I ran a big project at school which was part of my Queen's Guide Award. I created and led a mental health group. This includes organising three events every year; an antibullying day, a wellness week, and an 'Are you OK?' day. Our focus is on spreading mental health awareness and making sure that people know where they can get help.

Our wellness week actually started off as a wellness day but so many students and teachers got involved with it that I expanded it to a week. I’ve had lots of students come up to me afterwards, saying 'I’m so glad that you run this, I look forward to it every year'. It makes me feel good that it's helping people and they are enjoying it.

I think there’s so much stigma around mental health. It is difficult, especially in the social age that we live in, with all these different media platforms, it is so easy to get the wrong idea of what mental illness is. I think mental illness is an important thing to be aware of from a young age. Mental illness, and especially something like anxiety, depression and anorexia are romanticised through TV, film and social media, what is out there can be so misleading.

I think the biggest thing that I would like to tell other girls is that no matter what you’re going through and no matter how big, or how small, you feel your issues are, there is always help available. The biggest step is to reach out first. To anybody, a parent, a sibling, or your guide leader or a teacher.

It doesn’t matter if you think that it's too small for anyone to care, there is someone who cares if you just try to get yourself some help or just to talk to someone. It can’t make anything worse. That's the first step to feeling better.

Mino Valisoa, Madagascar

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I’m from Madagascar and I’ve been involved in Guiding since 2006.

Guiding has had a big impact on me on a personal level but also an intellectual and physical level too. Being in the Movement has empowered me and helped me to thrive. What I love most is interacting directly with people of all ages and backgrounds and with nature.

In Madagascar, nature is deteriorating because of deforestation and people’s bad habits towards the environment. I have chosen to challenge this by educating young people to develop better habits towards the environment and to develop their love for the environment.

This is not a one-off challenge; it is a long-term challenge. It takes time to educate young people. I’ve chosen this challenge because it’s hard for me to see our environment deteriorate and the impact this has on people’s lives. In Madagascar, 80% of the population relies completely on the environment to make a living. If it gets worse, we won’t be able to live in this environment and this will have an impact on our safety, especially for girls.

An obstacle for me is that the topic is very big and teaching the love of nature and the environment is not an easy task in today’s world. But I continue this work by trying to teach young people small things, because in the long run, it will instil that love of the environment in them, and these young people will teach those values to other young people. With time and perseverance, it will have an impact.

I think taking part in International Women's Day is important because it shows that women are here and they are present. In each part of the world, we challenge and we make our world a better place than it is right now. We give our two cents, we give our strength to the world, and it is important to take part to motivate other women to challenge and get out of their comfort zone. We need to show that we, as women, are here, and we can do big things from small actions. We, as women, can change the world.

Leslie Figueroa, Mexico

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I'm working with my Girl Guide troop teaching them about gender equality.

I'm on the national program subcommittee that reviews, prepares, and defines the programmes for girls and young people in Mexico. This means that sometimes I help to create new programmes such as where girls learn about peace or where young women learn about gender expression.

As a participant of WAGGGS' Young Women's Advocacy Forum (YWAF) 2020, I'm an international volunteer in charge of a project with other Girl Guides from my country. Through the arts, we seek to promote freedom of expression for young people who suffer violence based on gender stereotypes.

I decided to do this after seeing girls feel insecure because they will be judged by society. I have faced some barriers when working on this project, because some people in my country are not ready for tackling problems like femicide or acts based on homophobia so I´m trying to introduce all these issues by creating and sharing arts that express all these things.

I think it is important because people are speaking out, they are not hiding, and they want someone who can speak for them. I feel so fulfilled working on this project and sharing all the stories that matter. I´ve learned that I need to influence people. I´m not giving up on this project.

Florence Kwizera Burundi

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My passion to advocate and be a spokesperson started when I joined WAGGGS at the age of 12.

At this young age I was equipped with the knowledge and tools to make a difference in my country.

I was privileged to partake in an exchange program called Youth Exchange South to South (YESS). It was a partnership program between WAGGGS and FK Norway. This programme led me to more extensive training in Uganda on how to advocate internationally. At the age of 19, I then went around Tanzania advocating to hundreds of girls and women, telling them that there is more to us than what men expect from us.

I then started "Shout for girls’ rights", a campaign to improve communication between women and girls so that they empower each other and push beyond what's expected of them as wives and daughters and mothers and sisters. What was happening around me domestically and internationally, is what triggered my interest in girls' rights. I too was affected by the very same thing other women were going through. People from Tanzania , including my own family members, were against me going on exchange to Uganda and they tried to convince my parents not to allow to me, which is why I will be eternally grateful that my parents allowed me to make use of this opportunity to go to Uganda.

Perpétua Marie Tanjonirina Madagascar 

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I choose to challenge gender inequality because it’s affecting so many girls and women in our society.

Many people in our country still think that women don't need to go to school and don’t need to take decision making positions. I attended a meeting in my community where I spoke out. I said that men should not make all the decisions and that they need to respect us women as we are equal and need to help each other. Other women and some men backed me up. I made an impact and I am so happy they are now listening and following my ideas and suggestions. I will continue to challenge this issue with my daily actions to convince people that women can achieve more and need respect.

Jess, UK 

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Guiding has had a huge impact on my life. It has allowed me to meet many likeminded people from all over the world, to speak up about subjects I am passionate about and gain confidence in myself.

I have chosen to challenge body shaming. Growing up I have always been different to other people. I had to wear a tube feed and have a wonky chin and find it difficult to gain weight so I am very thin. This led to a childhood full of low self-esteem. All this changed when I applied to attend a conference with WAGGGS and the Dove Self Esteem Project, back in 2015.

The conference was all about the WAGGGS ‘Free being me’ programme and I learnt tips and tricks to become more body confident and learnt more about what Dove was doing to tackle this issue. This led me to take part in a BBC 3 film called ‘When strangers get real about body image’. Then in 2019, I applied for Girlguiding Anglia’s ‘Action for change’ project from which I created a Facebook and Instagram accounts called ‘Positively Me’, sharing people's body confidence journeys and highlighting the issue of low self-esteem.

In addition to this, I decided to put on a ‘body positivity’ fashion show which was featured on the BBC. It highlighted the need for normal representation in the media and featured real people of all shapes and sizes, showing people that everyone was beautiful in their own way. The response to this event and the project itself has been amazing. I am so pleased I was able to make my dream into a reality.

This led to a whole host of other opportunities including speaking at local schools ; being asked to write a segment in a body positive book; travel to New York City to be a model in a body positive fashion show and even in 2020, the opportunity to speak at the United Nations as part of WAGGGS and Dove’s Young Women’s Advocacy Forum.

All these experiences have been amazing and I'm so proud to see people become confident in their own skin because of it. I’ve learnt so much about myself and have become more confident in my own abilities. I’ve learnt that so many people feel the way that I once did. I want to continue doing these events, keep promoting the topic of self love and body confidence and keep fighting for equal representation for all in both fashion and the media.

Therese Malinowski, USA

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I am challenging the suppressive culture around sexual assault on college campuses, because too many colleges in my country purposefully dismiss sexual assault allegations on their campuses, and I have seen first-hand how harmful a lack of justice and support can be for those who have been made victims.

In order to change the culture around this issue, I worked to create the first comprehensive campus sexual assault database called "Project Dandelion" that makes statistics, history, and resources on specific colleges accessible to users, providing prospective and current college students the resources needed to understand the reality of sexual assault at a specific college. I truly believe that information transparency is the gateway to positive change in any topic, so by making this information available, this is sparking the conversation needed to change the culture of campus sexual assault, while providing students a valuable resource. Project Dandelion currently encompasses every college in the state of Illinois, but I am working hard to continue its growth to a national level!

Ejin Tan, Malaysia 

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Back in 2018, when I was advocating for ending child marriage with the the Girl Guides of Malaysia, we made a lot of impact.

We collected 156,000 signatures for a petition and handed it into the then-Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development. Half the states agreed to amend the laws on child marriage to increase the minimum age of marriage to 18. But there were still comments on our social media pages that GGAM shouldn’t be involved in these kind of things, that we should instead stay in our lane as a uniform body in schools. Intergenerational discrimination is one of the biggest challenges. I’ve noticed that there’s this belief that young people don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t have enough experiences. And the classic millennial stereotypes: lazy, entitled, attention-seeking, not trustworthy, unreliable. As you can see, there are doubts and criticisms from the public even after we have proven that we are capable of bringing change.

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