Picture a world where every woman is empowered. Where she never hesitates, never falters, never waivers in her confidence and belief in herself.
That's what the UN has asked us to do this year as we celebrate International Women's Day on March 8. This year's theme—"Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!"—is meant to get us talking about what that world could look like.
And the wonderful thing is that on most days, I can picture it. When I hear stories that move and inspire, I am reminded that women can truly change the world.
I hear about Cecile , a beautiful young woman in Haiti who is making sure her peers receive the sexual and reproductive health education that they deserve—and often don't get at home. She is now a peer counselor at the very center where she attended her first sex education class -- and she's getting even more support for her work thanks to Pathfinder's Services de Santé de Qualité pour Haiti project.
Cecile considers it her calling, her life's passion, to educate young people and give them a space where they can openly talk about birth control and HIV and make informed, safe choices for themselves.
And I hear about Shayma and her mother Azhar, who live in one of Egypt's poorest areas. It's a place where few rights for women are acknowledged. In fact, Azhar says "a girl's only destiny is to get married."
But Azhar wanted more for her two daughters, especially 12-year-old Shayma. With Pathfinder's help through our Fostering Opportunities in Rural Southern Areas project, she was able to gain new skills to support her daughters. Today, Azhar chooses health and opportunity; she refuses to marry her daughters off before they are ready.
These women are daring. They take nothing for granted and challenge the status quo. They give me hope that one day, women everywhere will be free from discrimination and violence.
But then there are the other days. Days when I think of the young girls who become wives before they turn 15 and the millions of girls and women who don't have access to the family planning services they want and need to thrive. Women and girls who deserve the right to pursue their dreams but face huge, seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
This is when I struggle to picture a future where all women, regardless of where they live, have the ability and opportunity to choose their own path forward.
It's on those days that I pause and take stock of the strong, passionate, and dedicated women I am lucky enough to work with every day.
Like my colleague Worknesh in Ethiopia. She's affectionately called "the mother of Ethiopia's youth programs"—and for good reason! She has led Pathfinder's effort to improve the way health care is delivered to her country's 33 million young people.
Worknesh does this because she believes, with every fiber of her being, that youth deserve the right to learn and make choices about their bodies—without being judged or dismissed.
Thanks to Cecile, Shayma, Worknesh and others like them, I am reminded that I don't have to look far to find women who dare—women who dream of a better world and dedicate themselves to making it a reality. They inspire me and make me even more determined to continue the fight alongside them.
In fact, this Friday I'll join two daring women—Priya Agrawal, Executive Director of Merck for Mothers, and Jeni Klugman, a Fellow in the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School of Government—at the Chicago Council's International Women's Day Global Health Symposium, leading the call for women's voices to be heard worldwide. All of us believe in the power of reproductive health—because it not only benefits women's health, but also their education and economic well-being, and allows entire communities to prosper.
Raise your voice with us: share the stories of these women with other daring women in your life. Did Worknesh's determination or Cecile's passion remind you of a friend pushing for change in your own community? Who are the daring women in your life?
With the strength of these women pushing us forward, we can achieve a world where all women are empowered and humanity prospers.