Youth activist rallies for gender equality in Rwanda
United Nations Foundation

This story was originally shared on #EqualEverywhere — a campaign to champion the changemakers working to make equality for girls and women a reality. You can find the original story here.

Irene Irere, a youth activist living in Musanze city in northern Rwanda, is committed to eliminating gender-based violence and preventing pregnancy among young girls. She participates in a youth club connected to Huguka Dutore, a youth workforce initiative operating in her country. Irene understands from her own life the importance of having links to jobs and self-employment, entrepreneurship training and coaching, and access to financing, family planning, and reproductive health services.

What does #EqualEverywhere mean to you?

For me, #EqualEverywhere means women and men can be treated equally at home, in their communities, in schools, and at work. Many people perceive this statement differently based on their culture, interests, and faith. To me, #EqualEverywhere means to treat women and men equally and respect their natural differences.

Why do you advocate for equal rights for girls and women?

I started advocating for equal rights for girls and women after seeing the harm gender-based violence was inflicting in my community. As an African living in Rwanda, it is common to say that men are more powerful than, or superior to women. Certain people assume women cannot contribute to community development. Because of this, women continue to face different forms of violence, including marital abuse. The main issue is young girls below 18 years impregnated by older men, something I strongly advocate against. Awareness of this touched me deeply and led me to push for policies to ensure such men are seriously punished. However, some families cover up for men who impregnated young children and claim it is taboo to prosecute them through the courts.


What motivates you to do this work?

I am highly motivated by the progress my advocacy is making in my home community. In fact, before I started, the pregnancy rate among young girls was high. Then, over the past year, 200 fewer were reported. This progress motivates me to continue my work.

What are the main challenges you experience in your work to advance gender equality?

As I push ahead, I face daily challenges. First, I am a girl, which means that some people in my community, even leaders, might consider my voice to be irrelevant. For example, someone might discount the ideas I express during a meeting by stating that I am merely conveying a woman's perspective. Also, we still [experience] gender violence in daily life. For example, I might need a service and be asked for sex before getting what I requested.

What progress are you seeing as a result of your work?

More positively, Rwanda is closing the inequality gap between men and women by steadily appointing more women to leadership positions. This has made a great impact, because, among other things, women and men are having an equal chance to attend any school. Also, gender-based violence has declined and the number of women taking jobs that in the past were only filled by men has risen. In fact, before this wave of progress, the number of girls able to attend universities, especially those wanting to pursue science, was very small, but now their numbers are increasing.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less