[In the News] The First Woman Of Women: How Melinda Gates Became The World’s Most Powerful Advocate For Women And Girls

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We’re loving this look at the life and work of Melinda Gates, co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and a champion for the health and rights of women and girls.

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Photo: Forbes

Melinda Gates has stepped up to use her voice and platform, as well as make those huge, critical investments. We are so inspired by the message this sends about the importance and global impact of investing in the leadership of women and girls.For the first decade and a half of its existence the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation deployed its remarkable scale toward eradicating polio and malaria, and experimentation in education issues. But over the past few years Melinda Gates has embraced having her name on the letterhead of the largest-ever charitable foundation, along with the influence that comes with that. She has become the most powerful person on the planet whose singular focus is women and girls…

“When you get women in roles of leadership, we make things happen,” Gates says. “It takes us using our voice, and it also takes us making investments, huge investments, in women and girls.”

It’s through women leaders like these, believing in the women leaders on the ground, that we can change the world.

Read the full article on Forbes.

Phionah: From Sex-Worker to Water Champion

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By Gemma Bulos, Global Women’s Water Initiative Director

I have been a sex worker for so many years, but when I met Godliver (GWWI Head Technology Trainer), I have withdrawn. She trained me on tanks, now I can make bricks, I can make a tank… I think I can almost be a technical engineer!
Phionah Mbugua

Every once in a while you come upon someone who is truly the embodiment of transformation and inspiration. For our Global Women’s Water Initiative, Phionah Mbugua is that person.

Phionah came to GWWI through Life Bloom Services International. Life Bloom works with commercial sex workers providing them with emotional counseling and services as well as vocational training to consider alternative livelihoods to uplift themselves from their situation. Life Bloom women leaders have been participating in the Global Women’s Water Initiative Training Program since 2011, where they have been learning to  become water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) technicians, educators and entrepreneurs.

Phionah was one of Life Bloom’s clients. When her husband left her 14 years ago with 2 kids, she had to raise her children on her own. And with a 7th grade education, she felt her only alternative was to sell her body.  She was invited by Life Bloom to learn how to build a rainwater harvesting system and tank from GWWI Technology Trainer Godliver Businge. Phionah was astounded to meet a woman who not only could build things like tanks and toilets, but who was teaching other women these same skills.

Because of Phionah’s talent and interest, Life Bloom’s Executive Director who has been elected as the Board Chair of her local water board, withdrew from the GWWI training program to let Phionah take her place. Phionah has since been hired by Life Bloom as their first WASH program manager and is currently construction WASH technologies, offering WASH education in schools and in the community. And she’s getting getting paid to do this work.

In this video Phionah shares with her GWWI sisters and fellow participants her story of transformation. (Transcript below)
 

Hello. I think I’m one of the retired sex workers! I have been a sex worker for so many years, but when I met Godliver, I withdrew. She trained me on tanks, now I can make bricks, I can make a tank, I think I can almost be a technical engineer. Yea, with my fellow colleagues the sex workers,  we have done the first tank we did it in a primary school and we want to do the other tank in a primary school.

So my fellow sex workers, they are very happy because when you come from building the tank, in the evening, we are so tired, even we can’t be able to go to the streets! I appreciate Godliver for the change she has brought to us because we were selling our bodies day and night you see because we don’t have anything to do in our life. Like, we don’t have courses. Like me, I learned up to class 7.

So right now, I’m learning, I want to do my class 8 next year. I want to get my diploma certificate this year so I’m sure I’ll do it, because you have empowered me.  Now my children are appreciating me. They are appreciating my job, even my family. Because before I was a drunkard, I couldn’t even listen to them. But right now I’ve changed. Like now my mom yesterday was asking me

“Oh, where are you going?” and I told her,

“I’m going meet other women in Kisumu. I’ve never been to Kisumu.”

And right now, even me , I don’t even feel like selling my body.  I’m very fit now. I’m 45 years (old). I’m retired and I don’t want my young girls who are behind me to follow my steps. Right now I want to follow these steps – of building tanks. Building biosand. And I think for biosand I am qualified because the last three weeks, the mortar followed me so I think  I have one certificate.

So I thank you ladies. We are together. I’m from Life Bloom. And I think because I’m interested, that’s why my boss withdrawn for me, ‘you can go instead of me Phionah.’ Because I’m interesting, interested and I’m strong.  And I will do it. And right now I’m going for another tank. Thank you so much!

For more inspiring stories, follow GWWI on Twitter at @womenwater -or- @gemmabelle, and join us on facebook.com/womenwater.

Women leaders in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Project: Women Building a Water Movement in East Africa

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In Africa and across the developing world, it is common for women and girls to spend up to six hours daily collecting water, time they could spend in school or working. The result is perpetuated cycles of gender inequality and poverty.

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) combine as global crisis that leaves 768 million without clean water and 2.5 billion, over a third of the world’s population, without access to sanitation. Yet, within Africa alone, women are making a huge impact on these issues starting from their communities and reaching on up. Wash Advocates’ website highlights eight women across Africa who are making waves. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia has brought WASH to Liberia and is the Honorary President of Water and Sanitation for Africa. President Joyce Banda of Malawi, has created a national initiative on maternal health and clean places for expectant mothers to wait until delivery with clean water, sanitation and access to health care. Six other women, working in West Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria, are creating initiatives and organizations that are just as important.

To read more about these incredible women, read the full article here.

Remembering Becky Tarbotton

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Women’s Earth Alliance joins the environmental community in mourning the passing and honoring the life of Rebecca Tarbotton, Rainforest Action Network‘s executive director, who died on December 26th in Mexico.

It is difficult to capture Becky’s spirit in words.  Those who knew her, admired and adored her for her vivacious energy, her welcoming spirit, and her uncompromising approach to her work.  She was a true leader who met seemingly insurmountable environmental challenges head-on, and won.  “We’re not the Rainforest Negotiation Network,” she said, “we’re the Rainforest Action Network.”  This past year, under her leadership, RAN saw one of its biggest wins ever — getting the Disney Corporation to commit to eliminating the use of paper sourced from Indonesia’s rainforests.

Becky’s influence and presence as a woman leader on the world stage was grounded in her years of working alongside grassroots women organizing in places like Ladakh, India.  There, she supported a local women’s farming alliance to grow its membership from 7 to 4,000.

Of that time, Becky said: “working with those women, helping them build alternatives to the western development model that was being imposed on their communities, was a foundational experience for me. It showed me that local wisdom is a powerful tool for change and that true solutions, when grounded in deep respect for cultural traditions, ecological wisdom and creativity can both improve quality of life and build a future where people live in harmony with nature.”

We at Women’s Earth Alliance draw deep inspiration from these words, and from the wisdom and commitment they represent.  All of our hearts ache at the loss of this brilliant, dedicated, joyful woman.  We persist in our work with renewed commitment in 2013, so that we may contribute to the realization of Becky’s dream of a peaceful and sustainable human existence on earth.

To make a donation to RAN in honor of Becky, visit RAN’s website

THE WAVE of H2ope!

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When Grace Mushongi came to the GWWI training in Kampala in Summer of 2011, she was working as a community organizer and Board Member for Bukoba Women’s Empowerment Association. Grace brings groups of women together to discuss development projects and increase women’s participation in the management of their livelihoods. Prior to the GWWI Women and Water Training, BUWEA assisted women with funding for purchase of cows, goats, pigs, and other supplies in order to maintain a method of increasing their household income, and allowing their children to attend school. When Grace returned home from the GWWI training with her partner Rachel Ndyamukama, they were able to introduce water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) education for improved health; water testing techniques so they can identify contaminated water sources and introduce affordable ways to clean their water; and rain harvesting technologies to help women have access to water closer to their homes instead of walking upwards of 8 hours to fetch water.

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Since the training and with GWWI’s ongoing on-site and virtual support, Grace has helped train women in her community to build 5 rainwater harvesting systems with tanks providing clean water to over 1000 people in Kasangi, Tanzania. Grace not only has the passion and the drive, she now has the solutions to bring much needed change in her community! Grace and Rachel are just one of the ten GWWI Teams who are part of GWWIs 2013 Program Women-led WASH Service Center Training, where they deepening and strengthening their capacity as WASH technicians, educators, facilitators and solutionaries!