Recently, I spent time in the Nakivale refugee settlement in Uganda. As the “settlement” in its name suggests, the people living there are free to move around and integrate as best they can — one thing that makes the place unique.
I had a chance to play soccer with boys and girls from about a dozen nations and talk with women who had fled areas of conflict. It was a tapestry of human experience shared through both laughter and tears.
As I walked across a school campus at the settlement with a teacher, she shared with me the dire statistics on girls’ education. Most don’t get through grade school. Many are sold into child marriage to pay for food for their families. As I looked around at these young girls, I was gutted.
Our work with empowering girls and women is much more than creating equity — sometimes, it’s about health or education. Other times it’s about providing safety. Regardless of the path, it’s always about basic human rights.
We can do more to empower girls and women, and we can expand how we share the progress Rotary members and our partners have made toward this goal.
There is no shortage of inspiring examples of our work, from interest-free microcredit loans for women in Nigeria, to projects in India that provide girls menstrual hygiene products. Hundreds of projects are taking place across all Rotary areas of focus and are making a meaningful and often lifesaving difference.
Together, we can address the needs and inequities that girls throughout the world face daily. But we must also monitor the impact of these projects and create awareness of Rotary resources and subject matter experts, including Rotary Action Groups, The Rotary Foundation Cadre of Technical Advisers, Rotary Peace Fellows, and others.
It is especially important that we tell the stories of our initiatives that have a positive impact on the lives of women and girls. This last point is near and dear to my heart. This means sharing our stories on social media, through local news outlets, in this magazine, and wherever we can inspire others.
As you do so, it’s important to provide information that helps our Rotary family connect with others who are implementing activities in their regions, as well as across the world. Let’s share our successes and learn from one another — then proudly tell our stories to a larger audience.
These are exciting times in Rotary, and the world is taking notice. As we work to empower women and girls to step into their full potential, we create new pathways for membership growth and greater collaboration with partners to create positive, lasting change. Thank you for your continued action in this vital effort.
President, Rotary International