I’ve just arrived in New York City; a concrete jungle full of big dreams and buzzing possibilities that’s a stark contrast to the very quiet and simple Limpopo Province where I grew up in South Africa. Both my feet are tingling with excitement around the upcoming UN meetings and advocacy events which I will be taking part in this week; and yet, somewhere in between my tingling toes, I can also still feel the dust of GaMashashane village in Limpopo where, just a few days ago, I was engaging with youth on critical issues of inequality and discrimination against persons living with disabilities in our society.
Reflecting on the energy and conviction with which the youth shared with me their dreams of a better and more inclusive society, I realise that the melting pot of ideas and possibilities that’s brimming here in New York city is the perfect backdrop against which new policies and goals will be set to enhance the quality of life for all marginalised women and girls in the world. I am eagerly anticipating the profound discussions which will be taking place over the next few days around crucial sustainable development goals and policies which are going to significantly shape the actions of world leaders going forward into the next era of change.
I know that this is a moment in time which my mother, a teacher of persons living with disabilities, and my father, who was a passionate lawyer advocating for the rights of all disadvantaged people, would appreciate and be proud of. I also realise that my being here is more than just a testimony of what happens when organisations such as ONE and the SABC team up and support the power of Strong Girls to effect policy changes; but that it is also a testimony of what happens in communities when women and girls like me are given access to a quality education that forms the gateway to many opportunities such as this.
I look forward to advocating with ONE and SABC to bring to the attention of global leaders and the government of South Africa the issue that poverty mainly affects women and girls and that we will not end poverty unless they act now by investing in women and girls to reach their full potential. The 2015 AU heads of state declaration on Women’s Empowerment, signed in June of this year in Johannesburg highlighted the need for equal access to quality education, improving access to economic opportunities and ensuring access to prenatal, maternal and child health services. These are the same issues that form the core impetus for my founding the Virya Group in 2013 for educating and empowering persons living with disabilities – especially women and girls.
Indeed, New York City is not only a place of bright lights and buzzing possibilities. It is a place where I also believe a truly great future for all is about to take shape during and post the United Nations General Assembly. Here is where I stand #WithStrongGirls globally and declare the bold message that poverty is sexist – and that actions taken in the next few days could change everything. We must seize this opportunity to refocus the development agenda, and unleash the human, social, political, and economic potential of women everywhere. In Africa, the AU declaration has already given us women and girls a hand up.