COPH joins United Nations on empowerment of women

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Belinda-Rose Young, an alumna of the USF College of Public Health’s Department of Community and Family Health, said she is still in awe at the global impact of the EmpowerWomen campaign.

Young was one of 44 professionals chosen worldwide to serve as a global champion for women’s economic empowerment by UN Women, a United Nations organization dedicated to promoting gender equality.

She, along with four other global champions, pitched an original idea to UN Women for a yearlong digital campaign focusing on women’s economic empowerment using the social media platforms of Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.

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The global campaign reached every continent. (Photo courtesy of UN Women/Empower Women)

The campaign, which ran from Feb. 2014 to Feb. 2015, shared more than 300 unique stories from men and women around the world.

“Typically with large campaigns, you use movie stars or celebrities to sell an idea. We were trying to reach the everyday person, so it was a grassroots initiative,” said Young, a current CDC fellow who earned her MSPH in 2012.

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Kadiatu Mansaray, a story teller from Africa, shared her story on how she’s overcoming disability discrimination and pursuing an education. Read her submission, “I am not disabled everywhere!” (Photo credit: Dorothy Springer Trust/Laura Cook)

The stories, now published online in an e-book format, “Voices of Change,” are divided into eight thematic chapters including stories on gender stereotypes, education, employment, workplace and socio-cultural factors influencing women’s empowerment.

Submissions from story tellers of varying age groups and cultures from across the globe, illustrated how individuals are overcoming, or helping others to overcome, gender inequality.

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Ketut Subawa, a story teller from Bali, discussed gender stereotypes in employment and how his mother has inspired him. Read his story, “We are both humans. We are both the same.” (Photo credit: Muntigunung/Laura Cook)

The campaign also included research pieces, including one from fellow COPH alumna Dr. Mahmooda Khaliq Pasha, who recently earned a doctorate in community and family health.

“It’s evidence to back up the stories we were broadcasting,” Young said. “Not everyone has access to PubMed, but through social media they could access up-to-date and relevant information, which is what Mahmooda provided us.”

Khaliq Pasha’s article focused on reproductive health and how the community a person lives in can influence decision making on contraception.

“Contraception itself is extremely important in not only in the health of a woman, but in her relationship with her husband and children,” Khaliq Pasha said. “If there is more increased access to contraception in a relationship, then a woman will have better opportunity to have discussions with her husband.”

Women who have access to contraception are also more likely to space their children apart, allowing them to focus on developing a child before having another, according to Khaliq Pasha.

“The use of contraception allows her body time to heal, allows her time to bond and form relationships with not only her husband, but her new child as well, so that contributes to the overall mental and physical well-being of the woman,” she said.

Stepping out of her research bubble and sharing her work with a different audience was something Khaliq Pasha said she was proud of doing as part of the campaign.

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The campaign disseminated submissions via each social media platform. Here is an example of one on the topic of entrepreneurship shared on Instagram. (Photo credit: EmpowerWomen Instagram)

“The feeling that you have with all these people from all over the world who are participating in it, retweeting it—it was a sense of community that was created,” she said. “People were talking about the same issues and bringing them to the forefront.”

For Young, the campaign was meant to spark a necessary conversation and share research and stories in an easily accessible way.

“I would have never thought that I would have been a part of something so large that touched so many people around the world,” she said. “We wanted to start a conversation, and that’s what public health is all about, changing populations by starting with a conversation.”

Empowerwomen.org currently serves as an online platform connecting partners from the government, private sector, and international organizations. To join the conversation, or to learn more, visit their website.

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health

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