Marcus Rashford's CampaignMany know Marcus Rashford for his role on the soccer field as a player for the famous Manchester United team. However, Rashford is also an activist in the fight against child poverty in the United Kingdom. With 22% of adults and 30% of children in Britain living in poverty, this is an important issue, especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coming from a background of poverty himself, Marcus Rashford’s campaign gives a voice to the impoverished youth.

Marcus Rashford’s Campaign Combats Child Hunger

One of Rashford’s most significant passions is combating child hunger. In June 2020, during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the soccer star launched a campaign asking the government to continue using food vouchers for students during summer vacations. For many impoverished children, school lunches are a necessary resource to receive proper daily nutrition. Rashford’s campaign provided vouchers to underprivileged families, allowing children and families to access school lunches and groceries during the summer. Additionally, he raised £20 million with FareShare, a U.K. organization that has provided 131.9 million meals to charities and vulnerable people.

The public has shown strong support for Rashford’s campaign. During his initial campaign, the government rejected his ideas. However, the people rallied in his support, causing the government to backtrack, providing 1.3 million students with meal vouchers for a six-week summer break period. His October 2020 petition calling for the government to extend free school meals to other vacations and expand eligibility garnered more than 500,000 signatures. Although this request was not successful, local businesses followed with their support, even businesses that the pandemic hit hard. Additionally, Rashford used his Twitter account, with more than 3.5 million followers, as a directory of food banks, providing valuable information for those the government denied food.

Educational Resources

Along with his work against child hunger, Rashford also works to provide underprivileged children with educational resources. Rashford has said he only properly started reading books for leisure at age 17 because his family never had the budget for it. After learning that more than 380,000 children in the U.K. never owned books of their own, Rashford sought to change that. In the fall of 2020, he launched a book club with Macmillian’s Children’s Books to provide books to children. Through Marcus Rashford’s campaign, thousands of children now have access to a new hobby that they previously viewed as a privilege.

In May 2021, the Sunday Times Giving List notably recognized Rashford as the youngest person to top its list of British philanthropists. This accolade was due to Rashford’s generous donations to various food, poverty and community charities. The soccer player has raised more than £20 million in donations, putting his “Giving Index” rating at 125%; his wealth is £16 million. Due to the additional waves of COVID-19, there is a high demand for donations.

Rashford has proven himself to be a valuable contributor both on and off the field. Through his hard work and dedication, millions of children across the U.K. have had access to food and books. With his substantial passion, Rashford shows no signs of slowing down in his philanthropic efforts.

– Carly Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Kenya
For many young girls in Kenya, properly managing a menstrual cycle with adequate sanitary products is a luxury. Roughly one million Kenyan girls miss out on education each month because they are unable to afford menstrual products. Girls and women are unable to work or participate in education for days at a time, placing them at a disadvantage in comparison to their male peers. Some girls even resort to sharing menstrual products in a desperate attempt to find a solution to period poverty in Kenya. Though access to menstrual products is a multi-faceted issue in Kenya, activists are making it possible for girls to properly manage their periods and continue with life as usual.

Period Poverty in Kenya

Research shows that 65% of Kenyan women and girls are unable to afford basic sanitary pads. As a consequence, girls often rely on the men in their lives for period products and some girls engage in transactional sex in order to secure sanitary products, perpetuating a patriarchal cycle of reliance and exploitation.

Milcah Hadida

Menstrual hygiene ambassador Milcah Hadida is combating period poverty in an innovative way. Hadida collects sanitary products from donors and delivers the products to vulnerable girls in Kenya via bicycle. Through her efforts, she has reached 2,300 girls in just five months.

For her mobilization against period poverty in Kenya’s Tana River County, Hadida recently received the prestigious Florence Nightingale Medal. This award “recognizes exemplary service in the areas of public health and nursing education.” In addition to delivering period products to girls in rural Kenya, she has also called on the health administration of the county to develop policies to address period poverty.

Megan White Mukuria

Megan White Mukuria is the founder of ZanaAfrica, a social enterprise founded in 2007 with its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. ZanaAfrica combats period poverty through a hybrid model of feminine products and education. ZanaAfrica manufactures and distributes high-quality, low-cost menstrual products through the Kenyan marketplace. The enterprise couples the distribution of sanitary products with sexual and reproductive health education.

Through this combination, Mukuria and her team build a safe ecosystem where girls can navigate their adolescence in a safe and healthy manner. They also frame the period products through an aspirational lens, “creating safe spaces to learn about health and reclaim dignity.” Since 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has supported ZanaAfrica with several grants. Between 2013 and 2018, ZanaAfrica impacted almost 50,000 girls in Kenya.

Emmie Erondanga

Emmie Erondanga is the director of Miss Koch Kenya (MKK) women’s advocacy NGO, founded in 2001 with the aim of addressing the vulnerability of young girls in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi, Kenya. MKK intervenes against socio-economic issues that contribute to the disempowerment of young women in Kenya and provides free pads to girls in slums, when possible.

MKK’s work has been increasingly relevant with the impacts of COVID-19 as thousands of girls struggle to access sanitary products in lockdown. Because government pads are only accessible at school, Erondanga’s mobilization has helped fill gaps in the Kenyan government-funded sanitary towel program. Erondanga has been instrumental in advocating for reproductive health education in Kenya, aiming to reduce the stigma around periods and puberty.

When girls and women have adequate access to menstrual products, they are able to continue with their school and work endeavors. Overall, a world without period poverty means girls and women can contribute to economic growth in a more significant way, thus reducing global poverty.

– Alysha Mohamed
Photo: Flickr

 Aicha ChennaAicha Chenna, nicknamed “the Moroccan Mother Teresa,” is an important figure in Moroccan society. She devoted her life to fighting for women’s rights. She highlights the issue of single mothers in particular, which many consider taboo in Morocco. Within the country, many regard having kids outside of wedlock as an act of ignominy and dishonor to the family and society as a whole. It receives so much stigma that it can also lead to jail in some cases. To combat this, Aicha Chenna devoted her life to aiding single mothers and helping them become independent women.

Aicha Chenna’s Beginning

The activist Aicha Chenna began her journey as a state nurse and a social worker in the 1960s. As an employee at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Aicha Chenna witnessed single mothers having to abandon their babies for adoption, sometimes against their will. Aicha Chenna recounted, “In my office sat a young woman who was nursing her baby. She was about to sign the adoption papers and took the baby away from her breast to do so. The little one screamed and cried. That was the moment when it clicked for me. I had just had a baby myself and had recently returned from maternity leave. That night, I couldn’t sleep. The story kept going around and around in my head.” It was then that Aicha Chenna vowed to help single mothers.

Association Solidarité Feminine

Aicha Chenna established Association Solidarité Feminine (ASF) in 1985 in Casablanca. The goal of the association is to stand in solidarity with single mothers. The organization aims to help unmarried mothers stay united with their children and be able to be part of society. ASF offers single mothers a place to stay, literacy classes and job training. Further, the association has now added therapy counseling, cuisine and pastries training, sewing and accounting classes, fitness services and medicinal training. All of these services include daily childcare options and legal support. In this way, these single mothers gain the ability and support needed to reenter society.

The organization started modestly with two kitchens and some kiosks to aid 12 mothers. Since then, ASF has expanded into three separate locations. The Ain Sebaa center in Casablanca has dedicated itself to mothers in need of mental and emotional support. It provides educational services as well, including literacy classes. After women complete six months at the center, they meet with a social worker and a psychologist to discuss work options and training, including the restaurant or spa industry.

Progress For Moroccan Mothers

The activist Aicha Chenna, the Moroccan Mother Teresa, made strides in Moroccan society. Both Chenna and ASF received recognition and support from the Moroccan royal family. As such, the family laws underwent modification in 2004. The new laws state that extramarital sex is no longer a crime. Additionally, there are now paternity tests and new developments regarding the legal handling of children born outside of marriage. Thanks to the efforts of this daring activist, the chains of the societal taboos broke. Chenna’s work has saved the lives of thousands of single mothers and their children. These empowered mothers and their kids are able to rise out of poverty, decrease the number of social pressures they carry and lead full lives.

Zineb Williams
Photo: Flickr

Make Equality RealityEquality Now was founded in 1992 in New York when three feminist lawyers, Jessica Neuwirth, Navanethem “Navi” Pillay and Feryal Gharahi decided that domestic violence, rape and female genital mutilation could no longer be acceptable. The lawyers began to challenge cultural norms, recognizing that the best way to encourage the world at large to care about their cause was to choose specific cases of abuse and focus all media attention on these cases. The three established a mission to use the legal system to promote and protect the human rights of women around the world. Each year, the organization hosts a Make Equality Reality Gala to raise money to support the organization’s legal team. Dec. 3, 2020, marked the eighth annual gala, though the organization had to host it virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Make Equality Reality Gala 2020

The star-studded gala included special appearances from Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep, Jameela Jamil, Karamo Brown, Margaret Atwood, Aubrey Plaza, AnnaSophia Robb, Rob Reiner and many more. Gloria Steinem also wrote a tribute to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away in September 2020.

The Make Equality Reality Gala opened with a few words from the actor, author and producer Sheetal Sheth as well as actor, writer and producer Aasif Mandvi. They informed their audience of the mission of Equality Now and reiterated that the best way to support the organization is to donate to the cause. The video then cuts to snippets of interviews with the Equality Now staff explaining their activities throughout the year and how they made the best of quarantine. Some of their responses were light-hearted, like learning how to knit and bake. Other responses took on a more serious note, like working with other human rights organizations.

Jameela Jamil marks the first-star appearance to tell viewers that the future lies in the hands of young girls. However, she also notes that the future is at risk. Jamil tells audiences that one in 10 girls faces sexual violence in her lifetime. In addition, she says that 3 million young girls are victims of female genital mutilation in 92 countries, including the United States, and that girls make up the vast majority of victims of sex trafficking all around the world.

Organization Achievements

The gala included a presentation outlining the work of Equality Now since its founding, including helping young girls win rape cases in court or assisting girls in winning back their freedom after being married off as children. This organization has also helped women in Kuwait secure the right to vote. The organization works with governments in 193 countries around the world to create and change laws so that women and young girls are free to reach their full potential.

A Call to Action and Awareness

Over the course of the rest of the Make Equality Reality Gala, the lineup entailed performances from the cast of Netflix’s “Grand Army,” English singer/songwriter Jess Glynne and numerous speeches and calls to action from the biggest names in entertainment. There was also a performance of Two Girls, a play written by Katie Cappiello to raise awareness of the exploitation and abuse of women that occurs on the internet. Meryl Streep also delivered a tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Glynne closed out the gala with a performance of her song “I’ll Be There” and a montage of photos and videos of frontline healthcare workers, women at protests and women in positions of power.

Gucci and Chime for Change presented the Changemaker Award to Nadeen Ashraf. Ashraf is a 22-year-old filmmaker from Cairo, Egypt, best known for her work as the founder of Assault Police, an Instagram account Ashraf uses to highlight the gendered injustices happening in Egypt. She began to gain notoriety through the Instagram account and played an instrumental role in the passing of an Egyptian law to protect the identity of sexual violence victims.

Ways to Show Support

The Make Equality Reality Gala raised more than $380,000 in 2020 to continue to support the efforts of the lawyers and other staff around the world who work tirelessly to promote equal rights for women. Even an ordinary individual can make a difference by donating or fundraising to support the work that Equality Now does to empower girls and women across the globe.

Jessica Lyn
Photo: Flickr