If you were born a girl in Afghanistan, you would likely get married around age 15 or 16, drop out of school, and begin a family. Turns out, the same is true if you were born a girl in the Mayan indigenous communities of Guatemala. Or in Uganda. Or in community after community around the world.

What will it take to keep girls in school and promote greater options for their future? How do you engage community leaders, including men and boys, to create a more supportive environment? If the challenges are similar worldwide, could the solutions be, as well?

WomenStrong International – a non-profit that finds, funds, nurtures, and shares women-driven solutions that will transform lives in urban communities – announced today that it is awarding grants to six women-driven, community-based organizations to pilot, replicate, and disseminate promising solutions related to girls’ education and empowerment.

These organizations, working with urban women and girls in Afghanistan, Guatemala, Peru, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe, are the first round of members to join WomenStrong International’s new Learning Lab.

New WomenStrong Lab projects focus on helping girls delay marriage, stay in school, and create a pathway for future opportunity through girls’ clubs, gender sensitivity training for teachers, men, and boys, training young women in non-traditional occupations, and other approaches grounded in community needs.

Member organizations will share what they are learning in our WomenStrong Learning Lab, where they will have the opportunity to develop, test, sharpen, and amplify their solutions more broadly. Future Lab areas to be launched in the coming months will address women’s health, violence prevention, and economic opportunity.

“WomenStrong International was founded on a core belief: that women know best what they and their families and communities need to thrive,” said founder and Executive Director Dr. Susan M. Blaustein. “We look forward to the vibrant exchange of views, experiences, and lessons learned among our new Learning Lab members and to share with a wider audience what they are learning, as they work to empower girls and help them reach their fullest potential.”

Members of the WomenStrong Learning Lab addressing girls’ education and empowerment are:

GENET: Girls Empowerment Network (Malawi) improves the status and wellbeing of vulnerable, marginalized, and at-risk adolescent girls in Malawi. GENET empowers adolescent girls and young people to advocate for gender equality and justice, access to sexual reproductive health rights, education, and economic opportunities to national, regional and international networks. WomenStrong International’s support enables GENET to train and empower primary and secondary school teachers to implement gender-inclusive teaching methods in five schools located in the slums of Blantyre, Malawi’s economic capital. The project equips teachers in girl-centered approaches, tackles social norms and negative gender stereotypes, and supports mentoring to help improve students’ academic performance and nurture a love for learning among girls. The teachers will share their learning in afterschool “SheDreams” Girls’ Clubs, where over 3,500 young girls can learn new skills in a safe and supportive environment.

The Girls’ Legacy (Zimbabwe) builds the capacity of young Zimbabwean women and girls through leadership development and mentoring to enable them to live empowered lives and become role models and change agents in their own communities. The organization invests in young women’s education and leadership through a network of Girls’ Clubs, run by the girls themselves in different communities. WomenStrong’s grant is supporting a project for over 200 vulnerable young girls and women in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, who have been unable to complete school, are struggling with their education, and/or who have become mothers at an early age. Through a series of workshops focused on the program’s two key components, high-value skills training and personal leadership training, young girls are equipped with skills of high commercial value, such as carpentry and plumbing, positioning them to find work and to contribute to their communities. Parallel to these workshops, the girls also gain knowledge through lifeskills training in various topics, including financial literacy, community engagement, and self-awareness.

Girl Up Initiative Uganda was established in December 2012 to respond to the unmet need to advance educational and economic opportunities for young women and adolescent girls in slum areas in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. The organization has built a vibrant movement of girls through transformative leadership, sexual and reproductive health education, and skills development. With support from WomenStrong, Girl Up Initiative Uganda is launching a project to reach in-school adolescent boys with critical knowledge and information that can challenge deeply held beliefs and attitudes about girls and women and improve their knowledge around such key areas as sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender-based violence. The project also includes “gender dialogues” that bring boys and girls together in safe spaces to discuss and understand their respective challenges, with the aim of creating respectful, girl-friendly environments.

Sahar’s (Afghanistan) mission is to create educational opportunities in Afghanistan that empower and inspire children and their families to build peaceful, thriving communities. The organization partners with the Afghan Ministry of Education and Afghan-based organizations to implement programs to prevent early marriage, build schools, train teachers, improve digital literacy, and support a young women’s fellowship program in Balkh Province. Building on its successful Early Marriage Prevention Program, the grant from WomenStrong International enables Sahar to engage local men and boys as part of its efforts to change individual and community perceptions of early marriage. Working with fathers and elders, Sahar will lead workshops and specific interventions that address domestic violence, mental health and trauma, and conflict resolution. Tools, resources, and effective techniques will be shared with the men, so that they can continue the work of challenging harmful gender stereotypes and engage other community members who are critical to changing attitudes about girls’ rights and opportunities.

Visionaria Network (Peru) partners with local education ministries, businesses, and sustainable development leaders to design training and leadership opportunities for students and entrepreneurs. Visionaria’s flagship program in Cusco, Peru, “Visionaria for Schools,” is a comprehensive training that supports teachers in understanding and facilitating gender equity and norms, leadership, and empowerment for students. With support from WomenStrong, Visionaria is piloting a training for secondary school teachers in Cusco to ensure that learning outcomes can be achieved by all students, regardless of gender. Following the pilot, they will be adding gender equality teaching tips to Visionaria’s regular curriculum for the “civic and personal development” course area; and producing and disseminating “Teaching Strategies for Gender Equality,” using multi-media to reinforce effective gender-sensitive teaching strategies for educators across Peru.

Women’s Justice Initiative (Guatemala) prevents violence against women and girls in indigenous communities through programs that both increase women’s awareness of their rights and allow women and girls to protect those rights through access to mobile legal outreach. The grant from WomenStrong International allows Women’s Justice Initiative to address early marriage in the peri-urban areas of Patzun, where girls are often married before they turn 18. The project aims to change attitudes toward early marriage through a strategy that targets adolescent girls aged 10-17 with education and lifeskills, while including a parallel training program for adolescent boys. The project also includes training and advocacy at the municipal level, to change cultural norms about the age of marriage, to create safe spaces for vulnerable girls, and to involve key actors such as parents and community leaders in the process.

Founded in 2014, WomenStrong International finds, funds, nurtures, and shares women-driven solutions that will transform lives in urban communities. Member organizations start by listening to women, who know best what they need in order to thrive. Then WomenStrong brings its members together with other women’s organizations into a Learning Lab, to develop, test, sharpen, and share their solutions. Through this collective learning and sharing, WomenStrong is building a global community of organizations empowering urban women and girls to leave poverty behind.

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