From the Rotarian magazine Dec 2021
In his address to the Rotary International Convention in June 2021, Shekhar Mehta urged Rotary members to put improving girls’ futures at the forefront of their work. "It is important that we empower girls," said Mehta, who was shortly to take office as the 2021-22 Rotary president, "as we all find that more often than not, the girl is disadvantaged. We will serve all children, but our laser focus will be specially on the girl."
Mehta made empowering girls one of his presidential initiatives, and his focus is particularly timely. Women continue to face economic hurdles, declining levels of political participation, and challenges in the workplace, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. And the COVID-19 pandemic is among the factors that have extended the amount of time that experts estimate it will take to close the gender gap from an already daunting 99.5 years to 135.6 years.
"Especially for girls, creating opportunities that enhance their education, safety, health, and well-being has the power to transform their futures — and also to transform their families and communities," says Elizabeth Usovicz, a member of the RI Board of Directors. "Rotary members worldwide can make a difference in transforming communities by empowering girls."
Usovicz is also the chair of the Empowering Girls Task Force, which was established as part of Mehta’s initiative. And within zones and regions, Rotary has designated Empowering Girls ambassadors who can provide resources for districts and clubs and suggest ways to incorporate support for girls into existing projects or make it the basis for new ones.
"The Empowering Girls initiative is a club- and district-level service opportunity," Usovicz notes. "The primary role of the task force is to develop a framework and resources that enhance the ability of Rotary and Rotaract club members and leaders, as well as district leaders, to participate in and promote service projects that focus on the health, education, safety, well-being, and economic development of the girls of our world."
The task force members will also ensure that the RI directors and the new Empowering Girls ambassadors are kept informed, advocate for and monitor global engagement with the initiative and the impact of related projects, and make certain that Rotary members worldwide are aware of the initiative and understand how to participate.
"The ambassadors are a very enthusiastic and committed group of Rotary leaders," Usovicz says. "They play a key role in supporting clubs and districts in their regions, and in building enthusiasm for participation. They provide guidance on developing projects, connect club members and leaders with resources and information to help them to implement projects that empower girls, and provide ongoing encouragement."
Annemarie Mostert is one such ambassador. A member of the E-Club of Southern Africa D9400, Mostert is also a member of The Rotary Foundation Cadre of Technical Advisers. "Educated women are more likely to have greater decision-making power within their households," Mostert wrote in a piece for the regional magazine Rotary Africa-South in August. "Let’s encourage our girls to be smart, to study science and mathematics, to have a positive body image, to step into leadership positions. As people of action, we will be helping communities to break the cycle of poverty. By helping girls access quality education, we ensure economic independence, food security, resilience, environmental sustainability, and a better world for all."
It’s especially important, she noted, for clubs to share the work they are doing. Clubs can tell the stories of their projects that focus on empowering girls by posting them to Rotary Showcase using the tag "EmpoweringGirls2021" and by sharing them on social media.
"Our call to action is to leave no girl behind," Mostert wrote. "Every Rotary and Rotaract club should implement at least one Empowering Girls activity this year. Set up a global grant by focusing on health, education, or economic independence. Partner with a Rotary Action Group, share best practices, collaborate with other clubs and civil society."
Learn about RI President Mehta’s initiatives at myrotary.org/office-president.