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Young #WomenInspire us to #InvestInGirls

By Lindsay Menard-Freeman; Originally posted on Huffington Post

March is an exciting time to celebrate girls and women. Women's History Month commemorates the pioneers of women's rights and equality, past and present. International Women's Day encourages us all to continue the fight for women's rights around the world. And this week, the United Nations 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women revives our commitments to build a better future for girls and women everywhere.

This March, however, also marks a particularly critical time for women's health and rights: For the first time in over a decade, we have an opportunity to shape a brand new global development agenda. The 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) generated unprecedented political will and funding for girls' and women's health and rights. Unfortunately though, the MDGs are quickly coming to an end just when we are beginning to gain momentum.

As we enter this next chapter, we must ensure that our tremendous progress toward women's health and rights flourishes -- not falters. We have an opportunity to share best practices, examine remaining challenges and contribute to a new set of goals that prioritize girls and women. One way of the best ways to imagine what the future of development truly looks like is to engage and listen to young women.

Young women -- and young men -- have innovative solutions and unlimited potential to improve girls' and women's health in their communities. But all too often, they do not have the means to turn their ideas into impact. Through an exciting new Initiative of the Women Deliver C-Exchange, 10 Young Leaders were selected from a pool of Women Deliver's 100 Young Leaders to receive $5,000 seed grants for local girls' and women's health projects and campaigns. These projects are a part of an online voting competition that will allow the public to vote for the project they believe will have the greatest impact, and the winner will receive an additional $500 for his or her project.

Four of these C-Exchange grantees are themselves young women who inspire. They are fierce and savvy leaders, rising the ranks and paving the way to a brighter, more equitable future for girls and women in their communities and beyond. These powerful young leaders inspire us to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.
Cecilia García Ruiz will implement a project to help young Mexican mothers speak out about their sexual and reproductive health needs with the organization she works with in Mexico City, Espolea.

Chukwudera Bridget Okeke from Nigeria works with Concern Women International Development Initiative and will focus her work on reducing the burden of HIV/AIDS among female sex workers and their clients. Maureen Anyango Oduor from Tanzania will launch "Plan at Hand Girl Empowerment Project," which uses mobile technology to deliver reproductive health education and services to adolescent girls.

And finally, Nargis Shirazi will run her FRESH (Full and Richly Empowered About Sexual Health) Campaign with WO-MAN Foundation Uganda, inspiring creative solutions to improve the reproductive health of Uganda's urban youth.

Due to increased investments in girls and women, Cecilia's, Bridget's, Maureen's and Nargis' work is undoubtedly improving the lives of girls and women from Mexico City to Kampala. Now, it is time to expand their reach by raising their voices. As Plan International Global Youth Advocate Humaira said during her opening remarks at CSW 58 this Monday, "Our voices were not heard in the last round of development goals, but we will make sure are voices are heard this time."

The Women Deliver C-Exchange is a forum of corporate partners, including Bayer, General Electric, HRAPharma, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and WomenCare Global, that launched at Women Deliver 2013. The C-Exchange supports programs and activities that have a direct impact on girls and women.

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