10 Years Rising: Giving Real Power to Girls and Adolescents

By Saúl Interiano Ramirez, Rise Up Leader since 2013 and Founder and Director of COINCIDIR in Guatemala

In this series of stories celebrating 10 years of rising up for global impact, Rise Up Leaders discuss Rise Up’s role in their personal journeys as advocates for the rights of girls, youth, and women.

I was raised to be “macho” the way you supposedly raise a boy to be “macho” — with physical violence and hardness. I was not allowed to express my feelings and much less to cry, because “only girls cry.” For many years I have had to deconstruct myself and build other ideas and practices regarding gender relations. Being “macho” is a heavy and painful burden and changing is not easy or fast.

For 25 years, I have been an activist for the rights of children, including girls and adolescents. However, after becoming a Rise Up Leader, I understood better that adolescent girls are especially disadvantaged, and that there are a number of cultural and structural factors that hinder their progress.

Since becoming a Rise Up Leader, my organization COINCIDIR and I reviewed our institutional purpose and together with our board decided to transform ourselves into an organization that would work with children, with a special focus on adolescent girls. This is reflected in our mission, vision, and strategic planning.

With coaching and resources from Rise Up, our organization has strengthened its institutional capacity to support adolescent girls to advocate to ensure that key decision-makers fulfill their mandate and invest resources in adolescent girls.

Our most recent success is the approval and funding for a public policy prioritizing education, health, and safety for all 9,000 adolescent girls in the municipality of San Luis Jilotepeque. We achieved this through a participatory process that adolescent girls led themselves. 

Giving real power to girls and adolescents is not easy. Girls developing their own voices and thoughts with their own heads and hearts challenges a culture of silence, machismo, and patriarchy.

COINCIDIR has made significant progress in empowering adolescent girls, enabling them to make their own important decisions about the issues that affect their lives. This progress has been recognized and in 2017, COINCIDIR was awarded the With and For Girls Award for giving real power to adolescent girls in Guatemala. As an organization, investing in adolescent girls is the best decision we could have made.

Personally, as I continue to deconstruct the subtler aspects of machismo, I am convinced that this is not only a matter of girls and women rising up, but also of boys and men committing to advancing gender equality. 

Saul with fellow Rise Up Leaders in Guatemala