Celebrating women who inspire us

By Claire Boyer

Director of Operations and Communications, Madiro

March 20, 2023

International Women's Day 2023 is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women and girls around the world. This year's theme is #EmbraceEquity, a call to action to promote gender equality and empower women and girls.

Today, we shine a light on women who inspire us and recognize those who are championing the wellbeing of their communities. To this end, we are proud to highlight two leaders from our community-led projects, Shira Natenda from GCWR and Judith Draleru Maturu from PICSA Uganda, as well as the co-founder of Madiro, Dr. Gillian Morantz.

Shira Natenda

Tell us about yourself

My name is Shira Natenda. I am a feminist, a writer, an activist, a defender of womens’ human rights and a counsellor by profession.  I am the founder and Executive Director of Golden Centre for Women's Rights Uganda.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #Embrace Equity; what does it mean to you?

To me Embracing Equity means the acceptance of inclusivity and awareness of intersectionality among women and girls in all our diversities.  It means supporting equitable access to resources and protection for every woman and girl regardless of their gender identity, sexuality, class, educational level, race, nature of work, geographical location or disability.

Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?

Being a woman in my country is challenging. We are still taken to be inferior in relation to our potentiality. Women are sexualized, objectified, victims of domestic violence and blamed for this violence. Access to resources is still difficult for women, and our sexual health and sexuality is restricted. I have been a victim of all of the above. However standing up for myself and others is still perceived as crossing the line. That I should be put in my place; remain submissive and stay home.

But I have managed to overcome through continuously speaking up against injustice, educating myself on laws and human rights,  joining hands with women with whom we share a common goal in solidarity. I have taken time to meditate on my fears and weaknesses which has helped me gather strength to wake up every day and do what I do even when progress seems slow sometimes.

What issues do you see holding women back in your community? What can we do to address them?

Unfavourable laws that restrict or criminalize women and girl's sexual and reproductive health rights are holding women back. Sexual and gender based violence in all its manifestations has robbed women and girls off their dreams and lives. Finally, lack of education has greatly barred women from participating in social and political activities that involve decision making on policies and allocation of resources.

To address this, it is important to apply a holistic and feminist intersectional approach in all women empowerment programs, to fund feminist and women’s rights organizations that advocate and support women's rights especially vulnerable women and girls including women and girls with disabilities, and to provide education scholarships for women and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Dr. Gillian Morantz

Tell us about yourself

I am a pediatrician from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. My studies, research and volunteer work have brought me to Ghana, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Kenya & Haiti. I work at the Montreal Children’s Hospital and in several community clinics aimed at serving vulnerable children, primarily children new to Canada and those living in foster care. I am the co-Director of the McGill Department of Pediatrics' Global Child Health Program and the Social Pediatrics Program. I am also a co-founder and the pediatrics advisor of Madiro, a foundation aimed at scaling health technologies in Africa. I have two children and I love to be active with them.

Can you tell us about women who inspire you?

The women who inspire me the most are the mothers of the children with disabilities that I care for in my practice. I find their devotion, strength and patience truly inspirational. Being a mother is no easy feat, and all the more so, when you must constantly advocate and struggle for your child to access the services and therapy they so desperately need and that are so often out of reach…

What motivated you to do the work you do for your community?

I was fortunate to be able to travel and work abroad during my adolescence and as a young adult. I feel that these experiences sparked an interest in working with children and families who come from all over the world. This led me to seek out opportunities to work with children from diverse backgrounds living in Montreal. I currently work in my hospital’s Multicultural Clinic for children new to Canada and in a Social Pediatrics community center which offers holistic care to children in a culturally diverse neighbourhood. I deeply appreciate being able to provide care for these children and the affinity I share with them and their families. My work with them has also led me to take on an advocacy role in several campaigns aimed at improving access to healthcare and educational opportunities for refugee claimant children.

What advice would you give to women and girls in your community thinking about their future?

I would advise girls to aspire towards work that is meaningful to them. I would encourage them to pursue their education and career goals by harnessing their strengths and interests.

Carrying out work that you find valuable and meaningful allows for a better sense of balance in life since so much of our time is spent at work.

Judith Draleru Maturu

Tell us about yourself

I am a licensed comprehensive nurse (nurse-midwife) practitioner, clinical instructor and mentor, Sexual Reproductive Health analyst and activist, public health specialist and peace advocate. I have spent over 20 years working in domestic and international health. Currently, I am the project lead/head of maternal and newborn health and acting Executive Director of Partners in Community Social Action (PICSA) Uganda. I spend my leisure time empowering women and adolescent girls groups on income generating activities, giving information on early health seeking, and supporting remotely the Midwifery Association of Somalia on policy matters and quality care.

What issues do you see holding women back in your community? What can we do to address them and build a society that supports women?

Women are held back because, unlike men, they face occupational discrimination, and multiple barriers such as low levels of education, dependence on decision from men, low status in the family, lack of access to land, capital, financial resources and technology, as well as gender based violence. Women also face the challenge of striking a balance between child bearing, family responsibilities and work. Adolescent girls are faced with menstruation hygiene management problems, early pregnancies, child marriages and infections. All lack access to quality sexual reproductive health services.

These can be addressed through educating, empowering women and girls, income generating activities, forming groups to support one another, encouraging innovations and use of technology, sensitization and training on re-usable pads, encouraging girls to stay in school to end early marriages and pregnancies. Having dialogue with men and boys to support women education, business and participation in decision making and leadership roles in the community. Advocacy at policy level for inclusiveness and equity.

What advice would you give to women and girls in your community thinking about their future?

Perseverance and responsible parenting is a foundation for the young ones who are guided, cared for and educated to delay getting married until they are mature. Say no to gender based violence. Come forward when you experience discrimination or being discriminated against because of your gender. Come forward to address it and never entertain discrimination against you or your loved one, speak out loudly against discrimination. I will also encourage women and girls to go for what they want in life regardless of their situation, gender and age. I would encourage them to have confidence and passion in what they want to be to the best of their ability, do what you are passionate with and make you happy and fulfilled in life, your passion drives you to success. Lastly, let women and girls use their previous shortcoming as learning points for better development instead of lamenting.

Any other comments or thoughts you’d like to share?

I look forward to the day when gender equity is such that it is not necessary to dedicate one day to women. The fact is that we are not there yet and we mustn’t forget the place of women in recent history and the current challenges that we face only for being women. I stand with the women in poor communities, those in humanitarian setting (man-made and natural) disasters; Ukraine, Turkey, Syria, South Sudan, DR Congo, Somalia, to mention but a few. The world leaders should understand that women are part and solution to the world problems and leaving them behind drags us backward. A child can listen to the voice of the mother and the man to the voice of the wife to put down their guns and the reverse is true. Therefore, the world peace and development is incomplete without equity.

Ubuntu team members and Isabella in Ubuntu's food security field

While progress that has been made towards gender equality around the world, we also acknowledge that there is still much work to be done. We must continue to push for equal opportunities for women and girls in all aspects of life, including health, education, employment, and political representation.

Let us celebrate the achievements of women and girls, and continue to work towards a world where everyone has an equal chance to succeed. Happy International Women's Day 2023!

About the author

Claire Boyer (she, her, hers)

Director of Operations and Communications, Madiro

Claire works as the operations & communications lead at Madiro. She has spent her career working in high-growth technology start-ups in operations, strategy, mergers & acquisitions, account management and project management. Claire is the main liaison for Madiro's community-led projects and strives to give organizations a platform to amplify their work, reach a larger audience, and increase their impact on their respective communities.

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