International Women’s Day: Celebrating women, empowering girls

By Elizabeth Usovicz, Rotary International Director

Elizabeth Usovicz, Rotary International Director

8 March 2022 is International Women’s Day. As Rotary people of action, there is no better way for us to celebrate than by empowering the next generation of women. Today, I honor the girls of our world by giving voice to one of their stories.

I first became aware of Atupele when she was in primary school through my volunteer work with Malawi Children’s Village, a local organization serving at-risk children. Atupele was orphaned by AIDS as an infant. With Rotary club funding and assistance from Malawi Children’s Village, Atupele and her sister were raised in their village by their grandmother.

Atupele was smart and determined. She wanted to go to secondary school, but had no money for tuition, uniforms, or books. Rotary club funding and donor support provided Atupele with a scholarship. When she passed the entrance exams for nursing school, donor funding subsidized her studies.

Yet something happened to Atupele at nursing school. She suffered sexual violence and became pregnant. Forced to leave school and return to her village, Atupele’s hopes of becoming a nurse faded.

Atupele gave birth to a daughter. Unfortunately, her baby did not survive the first six months of life. Throughout those dark times, Atupele never gave up her dream of becoming a nurse. With sheer determination, encouragement from Malawi Children’s Village and donor support, Atupele returned to school and completed her nursing studies. Today, in her own words, “I am working as a pediatric nursing officer. I do the following: delivering babies, prenatal and postnatal care and clinic, as well as adult nursing.”

Atupele’s journey has not been easy, and she continues to face challenges as a healthcare professional in a country where the ratio of care is one nurse for more than 2,000 patients. Despite significant barriers, Atupele has persevered. She has changed her own life, and in the process she has become a role model for the girls in her village.

This is why our club projects to empower girls are so important. Self-defense classes for girls in the Philippines, training in sewing and using washable menstrual pads for girls in Nigeria, and gender-specific toilet blocks for schools in India are examples of Rotary’s  support for girls as they strive for equity and self-determination.

In the Chichewa language of Malawi, Atupele means “gift.” The most valuable gifts we can offer to girls is a voice in their own futures, the opportunity to choose for themselves and the ability to become agents of positive change in their families and communities.

Honor the girls of our world and International Women’s Day in your Rotary or Rotaract club with an Empowering Girls project. Find more information on the Presidential Initiatives page.

Elizabeth Usovicz is Rotary International Director from Zones 30 and 31, USA. She chairs Rotary International’s Empowering Girls Initiative Task Force.

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