The 15th Annual Global Leadership Awards is here. On March 9, we will be celebrating four extraordinary women who are taking on the most urgent issues facing their communities.
In the past 15 years at Vital Voices, many extraordinary women have been honored for their vital and urgent work. We reached out to three past Global Leadership Award winners to see where they are now: Sunitha, a courageous woman who fights trafficking in Hyderbad, India; Kakenya, who had a dream for ending child marriage and building an all-girls school in her hometown of Enoosaen in south Kenya; and Panmela, a graffiti artist based in Rio de Janeiro who uses her work as a medium to fight violence against women.
Sunitha is the Co-founder of Prajwala, an anti-trafficking organization that rescues women and children from brothels and provides quality education to the children of prostitutes in order to prevent second generation prostitution.
Sunitha leads community-based efforts that take her staff and volunteers into slums, villages, schools and colleges to identify and connect with at-risk women and children, so that they may understand that prevention is more effective than a cure. Sunitha’s anti-trafficking efforts have sparked a growing movement in India. She has forged NGO- corporate partnerships with companies like Amul India, Taj Group Hotels and Heritage Hospitals to find jobs for rehabilitated women. She also works in collaboration with UN agencies and other NGOs, and has established printing and furniture shops that have rehabilitated some 300 survivors.
Later this spring, Sunitha will be recognized by the Indian Government for her efforts. For her two decades of social work and fighting to end trafficking, she will be conferred “Padmashree”, the highest civilian honor. This is the first honor given by the Indian Government that will acknowledge the anti-trafficking mission.
Sunitha continues to lead the pack as a public servant dedicated to ending trafficking. Clearly her vital voice is being heard.
Kakenya was honored at the Global Leadership Awards in 2008 for her bold dream to create the first girls school in her community in Kenya. Now, eight years later, she has 280 girls enrolled in her school program and she is hard at work building a second larger school to be opened in 2018.
In 2009, shortly after the Global Leadership Awards, Kakenya went back to her community with the goal of enrolling 10 girls in her school. There was no school building, no text books and no money for these things but Kakenya knew she had to do something. Too many girls in her community were being forced in to harmful traditional practices, like female genital cutting and being married off at an early age. She knew that in order to stop these practices, she would have to provide the girls with an education. Her goal was to start with 10, and build from there.
When Kakenya arrived to interview the students, 100 girls showed up in hopes of receiving an education. Due to budget restrictions, she could only take thirty students. In the past eight years, enrollment in Kakeyna’s school has grown to 280 girls in Pre-K through 8th grade and she sponsors girls to continue education through high school.
In addition to the school, Kakenya started a training program for girls and boys in 45 schools in Kenya. Thus far, she has trained over 3,000 students in health and leadership. Girls learn their rights, self-defense, hygiene and self-confidence to be leaders. She hopes to expand to 500 schools in the region over the next two years.
Kakenya’s School for Excellence has educated thousands of girls and boys in Kenya and her big dream continues to grow each and every year.
Panmela was recognized by Vital Voices for using her skills as a graffiti artist to take a stand against domestic violence in Brazil. Panmela is a political feminist street artist. She uses her skills to draw on the long history of street art as an act of civil disobedience to create a dialogue around challenge stereotypes of gender and female submission.
Soon after the Awards, Panmela formed Rede Nami, an urban art network of female urban artists that addresses gender inequality through public art, graffiti and workshops in Rio. She now sees her mission as transforming the roles of women in society.
This year, Panmela will be attending the Global Leadership Awards, taking the stage to discuss the impact the Human Rights Award has had on her life in Rio. She believes the Global Leadership Awards have given her the visibility and the opportunity to make a difference with her work. With the credibility of the Award, Panmela receives more attention for her art and for her mission to end domestic violence.
Panmela’s work has been featured at galleries in New York City and she hopes that her work will continue to impact the community in Rio to bring more attention to the issue of domestic violence in Brazil.