Smiling school girl
VSO/Suraj Shakya.

Five female achievements you might not know about

Ensuring women’s and girls’ rights across all aspects of life is essential in securing prosperous and just economies, and a healthy planet for future generations to come.

This International Women's Day, join us in celebrating five female achievements from VSO and beyond, that you might not have heard about... 

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back” - Malala Yousafzai

Salma, education award winner
Salma being presented with her certificate.

Celebrated on the 24 January, UNESCO dedicated the 2023 International Day of Education to Afghan girls and women. This recognised those who have been deprived of their right to higher education since authorities suspended girls’ access to education beyond primary school. 

VSO Afghan volunteer, Salma Rehmat, was honoured with the Education Award at the VSO Volunteer Impact Awards for her role in providing safe learning environments to some of the most vulnerable children in Pakistan, including refugees.

Salma has managed to identify 106 out-of-school children by visiting the houses of recently migrated Afghan refugees and helping these children return to school via catch-up classes. 

“[Winning] is not just a success of mine, but it’s a success of us all who are working for the local cause. We need to bring each and every child back to school and we will continue our mission in the future.” - Salma.

Learn more about Salma and all our winners

Shooting for the stars

Christina Koch
NASA/Keegan Barber
Christina Koch with her fellow Artemis II astronauts.

NASA astronaut Chistina Koch has made giant leaps for womenkind. From taking part in the first ever all-female spacewalk, to holding the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman for spending 328 days onboard the International Space Station.  

Christina is poised to set a new record in 2025, after NASA announced she will be the first women to participate in a lunar mission.

The launch of the Artemis II will represent the return of American astronauts to the moon after over 50 years. 

In Cambodia, VSO is empowering teenage girls, aged 15 to 18, to reach for the stars, and pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Practical lessons are not a common experience for students in Cambodian secondary schools and currently only 20% of school graduates follow the science route, with the majority pursuing the humanities instead.  

VSO volunteers are helping to change this by helping science teachers in schools to deliver practical work to students, to inspire their scientific minds. This involves showing them how to use new equipment, co-planning, teaching practical lessons and providing follow-up reflection and coaching. 

Volunteer Sean’s experience improving STEM education in Cambodia 

Making women seen and heard

Brown Niyonsaba
VSO/ Panupong Juladilok
Brown Niyonsaba has been invited to speak at many international conferences about her work and experiences.

Greta Gerwig made film history with Barbie becoming the highest-grossing film by a female director, surpassing over $1 billion USD in global ticket sales.

The Warner Bros film is also the studio's fastest movie to reach that record, in just 17 days, beating previous holder Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

Barbie’s story of female empowerment presented a new diversified look for the iconic doll, inspiring girls across the globe to put on some pink and celebrate girl power. 

VSO’s own community volunteer, Brown Niyonsaba, celebrated her own movie achievements starring in the short film Brown.

This inspiring film made by volunteer filmmaker, Justin Spray, explores the question "what does it mean to be a Deaf woman in Rwanda?"

As a Deaf woman, Brown experienced discrimination growing up. Now she trains health and education service workers in sign language to ensure those with disabilities can access the services they need. 

Watch the full film here

Creating a safe space for all in Nepal 

Rukshana Kapali
UN Women/Laxmi Ngakhusi
Nepali activist Rukshana Kapali.

Nepali activist Rukshana Kapali, made waves by making it onto the BBC’s 2023 100 Women list, alongside the likes of Michelle Obama and Gloria Steinem. The annual list aims to highlight the diversity and accomplishments of women across the world. 

A transgender campaigner for LGBTQI+ rights, Rukshana is a housing campaigner and transgender human rights activist.

The third-year law student has been an active force in advancing legal rights for LGBTQI+ people like herself living in Nepal.

Rukshana comes from the indigenous Newa ethnic-nationality and the marginalised Jugi caste group. She has helped fight against the forced evictions of Jugi people from their traditional homes. 

On a VSO project in Nepal, 16-year-old Alina and her friends have started an awareness campaign against domestic violence.

Alina attended a VSO Rupantaran class where adolescents are encouraged to engage in conversations around gender-based violence, social inclusion and child marriage. Since then, her and her friends have supported survivors to access legal help to gain justice.  

We should not tolerate violence. If you know that there is violence in your society, you should help."  - Alina

Learn about Alina and more trailblazing Nepali women

Inspirational mothers

Naomi Osaka
Tennis star, Naomi Osaka.

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka returned to the court last month for the Brisbane International, less than six months after giving birth to her daughter. Many inspiring sportswomen have continued to have awe-inspiring professional careers after giving birth.

In earlier decades, Evonne Goolagong Cawley won Wimbledon in 1980 after having a daughter, while Margaret Court and Kim Clijsters have also won grand slam titles after becoming mothers. 

Motherhood should be a choice. Unfortunately for many women in East Africa, a lack of sexual and reproductive health services means they're not given this choice.

VSO’s Make Way project is working in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia to bring sexual and reproductive health and rights to all, and enable people to make informed decisions about relationships, their bodies, family planning, sexuality, and wellbeing.

The project focuses on those who face barriers in accessing the services they need, such as young people and girls living in poverty, and those who have a disability. 

Learn more about the Make Way project 

Women can achieve so much when they can overcome the societal restraints put upon them but it’s essential to acknowledge the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together to disadvantage women and prevent their progression. Based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, many women face additional barriers to realising their rights. 

By putting the women VSO support at the heart and centre of our project design and delivery, they use their own voice to create the change they want to see in their own societies, for themselves and for generations to come.  

As Maya Angelou once said:

Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

Join the conversation

Share your favourite female achievements with us on social media using the hashtag #WeVolunteerFor.

Read more

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