While growing up in Northern Nigeria, Rise Up Leader Jennifer Agbaji recalled that she would return to school after the holidays and see empty chairs. Instead of continuing their studies, young girls in her class had been forced to get married over the school break.
“I became a lawyer to bring justice to girls like me who face abuse in their daily lives,” Jennifer said earlier this month at Building Feminist Power, a Rise Up event celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8.
Jennifer is the Founder and Executive Director of Basileia Vulnerable Persons Rights Initiative, an NGO focused on advocating for girls and women with disabilities and children with special needs. With Rise Up’s support, Jennifer significantly strengthened her leadership and advocacy skills.
Jennifer shared with Rise Up Nigeria Country Director Theresa Kaka Effa and the nearly 200 event attendees her passion for engaging women and girls in the digital space, especially married adolescents, to shrink the gap in digital technology and provide women with access to information for learning and self-development.
“Growing inequalities are becoming increasingly evident in the context of digital skills and access to technology,” Jennifer said. “The COVID-19 pandemic exposed our vulnerabilities and amplified digital inequalities — we lose a lot from not doing anything about it.”
In 2020, Jennifer’s organization designed and launched the GirLeaders Social Innovation Fellowship, which teaches girls digital skills like coding, graphic design, and animation, among others, so GirLeads can start earning their own money.
Event attendees also heard the powerful story of Rise Up Leader Riya Thakur from India. Riya currently serves as the Senior Technical Advisor for Advocacy and Accountability at the International Planned Parenthood Federation. She joined the Rise Up global network with a decade of experience and a vision to address a lack of sexual and reproductive health services in underserved parts of Delhi.
Riya shared that with funding and support from Rise Up, she helped transform sexual and reproductive health access for millions of young people—ensuring their ability to make decisions about their own bodies. You can hear more from Riya, including how growing up in a patriarchal society influenced her career and how she achieved her incredible advocacy win with the Population Foundation of India, here.
Women’s Funding Network, of which Rise Up is a member, served as co-host of the event. Rise Up Founder and Executive Director Dr. Denise Dunning spoke with WFN President and CEO Elizabeth Barajas-Román about the future of feminist funding and the ways you can get involved to strengthen gender equity.
This year’s IWD theme was “Embrace Equity” which aligns perfectly with Rise Up’s work of partnering with visionary local leaders around the world—like Jennifer and Riya—who are creating meaningful, lasting change in their communities and countries.
If you haven’t already, watch this year’s IWD event to get inspired by our incredible speakers on how they are changing the world and ways you can help.