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My voice, our equal future: ICS alumni projects championing girls’ rights

Meet two winners of the ICV Alumni Grant, an award offering support and funding to ICS volunteers to create and run youth-led projects, including supporting girls to claim their rights to education.

What is the ICV Alumni Grant?

The ICV (In-Country Volunteer) Alumni Grant offers up to £1000 (GBP) to young volunteers who want to build on their ICS experience by creating and running youth-led projects. These projects focus on helping to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality and education.

While patriarchy and poverty hinder many girls’ dreams of achieving their educational potential, in many countries, girls’ education is additionally impacted by the biological realities of periods and the risk of pregnancy. Let’s meet two of this year’s ICV alumni grantees, who are hoping their projects will help girls stay learning and thriving throughout their adolescence.

Empowering teenage mums through horticultural workshops

In Tanzania, one in six girls aged 15-19 is married. Almost 40% of 18 years old girls are already mothers or pregnant with their first child*. Faced with the challenges of early pregnancy and negative attitudes from their community, many drop out of education. This premature end to their education puts these girls at greater risk of discrimination and reduced opportunities for employment in the longer term.

Tanzanian volunteer Mwanat Shaban was inspired to apply for the ICV Alumni Grant by her desire to see young girls escape from extreme poverty. Mwanat’s project will empower local women and teenage girls with useful entrepreneurship skills, specifically in horticulture (growing plants). This will not only empower them financially through a new and sustainable method of earning money, but will also build their confidence, enhancing their access to information and community decision making.

Mwanat is working to empower local women and girls by supporting them to develop useful skills.
Mwanat is working to empower local women and girls by supporting them to develop useful skills.

Working with local government, this initiative will build upon past efforts aimed at helping youth engage in income-generating activities. Unlike these other local initiatives, Mwanat’s scheme will focus on supporting less represented members of the community – women and girls. Recognising that real change will need the support of public leaders, Mwanat is engaging with multiple levels of community leadership to ensure the project has vocal and visual support from leaders.

"The methodology of working together with the local government and leaders intends to give them ownership of this activity," says Mwanat, "so all workshops will be conducted to specific village and street offices where all primary actors are easy to reach."

Mwanat will work alongside these local leaders to recruit, train, mentor and coach community members. They will then continue to support pregnant teenagers and girls no longer in education, long after this ICV Alumni Grant-funded project has been completed.

Supporting girls to have safer periods in school

4000 miles away from Tanzania, in Bangladesh, girls are facing similar unfair barriers to their education. Menstruating is a normal part of teenage girls’ lives. Yet in the coastal region of southern Bangladesh, menstruation is stigmatised to such an extent that many are missing out on education. What’s more, many girls are putting their health at risk by using unsanitary practices to manage their period.

Bangladeshi volunteer Urida Afrin is setting out on an ICV Alumni Grant-funded project to help keep girls in education. Urida is working with five schools to create ‘menstrual hygiene management’ corners. In each school, these corners will provide a safe space for girls to access reliable information on menstruation and support for healthy and hygienic practices. Through this, it is hoped that period-induced absenteeism each month will be eradicated, and girls can focus on their education, feeling safe and supported while at school.

Urida stands at the front of a room, speaking to a group of women and girls who are sitting on chairs and listening to her
Urida has set up safe spaces for girls to access reliable information on menstrual hygiene.

Urida is determined to make her project sustainable. That’s why she began by sharing questionnaires with students to ensure that their sexual education and health concerns could be met through this project. Knowing that this is what students want, Urida is now working to build sustainability into the project, so that more and more students can access this support each year.

In each of the five schools, she’s selecting 25 peer educators and one female teacher, who will be trained with the necessary knowledge and skills to continue to run these menstrual hygiene management corners for years to come. She has also reached out to local government and school management committees to ensure funding continues to be provided to these corners.

I want to overcome these social barriers in the community
Urida Afrin

Speaking of many parts of Bangladesh, Urida notes that "some taboos exist in society and [are perpetuated by] guardians. Through my activity I want to overcome these social barriers in the community." Through these peer educators Urida is hoping not only to support girls within the school building, but also to develop a dialogue between teachers, students, and parents to support a cultural change away from the taboos of menstruation towards inclusive education.

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Funded by the UK Government.

ICS is funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which projects the UK as a force for good in the world, including reducing poverty and tackling global challenges.

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