By Tawina Jane Kopa-Kamanga, Rise Up Leader since 2011 and Founder and Director of Teams Advancing Women in Agriculture (TAWINA) in Lumbadzi, Malawi
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.
The problems I am working to solve in my community are child marriage and adolescent illiteracy among rural girls. These related issues rob girls of their childhood and rush them into the responsibilities of adulthood and childbearing ill-equipped and without a sense of purpose. I work in a community where the average age of marriage for girls is 14 and the majority of girls, nearly 7 in every 10, are married before their 18th birthday.
I was inspired to do this work because of my own background and my desire to bring about change. I was forced to drop out of school for refusing to have a sexual relationship with my teacher. I endured discrimination at work and eventually lost my job for standing up for the rights of women. Having shared my story with many, and having witnessed many women losing their jobs under circumstances like mine, I knew I was not alone. I also knew that change was possible. I decided I would be that change. My mission is to create as many female leaders as I can by channeling opportunities and resources to rural girls and women. I am raising an army of girls and women equipped with knowledge, resources, and power who are ready to transform their lives and become social change agents.
Since becoming a Rise Up leader, I have become an expert in advocacy, girl leadership, and girl-centered program design and implementation. I have learned how to leverage networks and resources to advance my work. Rise Up helped me to grow my work by training me in advocacy and leadership, connecting me with like-minded people, providing a seed grant for my work, and Rise Up has stayed by my side all along the way. Rise Up is a family to me, my greatest cheerleader.
So far, I have succeeded in mobilizing and connecting girls through girls’ clubs and networks; raising community awareness of child, early, and forced marriage as a violation of human rights; and creating a sense of agency. I will know I am successful when girls can decide when, whether, and who to marry in a socially supportive and legally responsive environment.
My hope for the future is that girls from rural communities will have equal opportunities to lead fulfilling lives.