The young leader who’s building equality through community in Bolivia

November 14, 2022
EXCLUSIVE
By Kerri Whelan
November 14, 2022

This is exclusive content for Determined Optimists! As part of your membership benefits, you’re getting a first look at this story to see the impact of your support for girls around the world.

Geovana lives in a rural community in Bolivia where girls and other young people aren’t encouraged to use their voices. In fact, there aren’t many young people in her community at all. Many leave to find better job opportunities in other countries.

But Geovana is taking the lead and investing in her home, and its future. At just 20 years old, she’s planning to run for mayor of her community in a few years. How did she build the confidence for it?

“I first started on this leadership path since getting involved with Plan International,” Geovana, age 20, explains. “I was a sponsored child for almost four years.”

Plan’s sponsorship program in Bolivia reaches more than 700 communities and supports around 40,000 children.

There are few women leaders in her region, and that’s all the more reason Geovana wants to run for mayor. “It is time for us to challenge the patriarchal system, to break the stereotypes inherited from before, even since the conquest,” she says. “Women to power!”

Adults, youth and adolescents all have the same goals within a community," Geovana says.
Adults, youth and adolescents all have the same goals within a community," Geovana says.

For Geovana, solidarity against sexist attitudes and patriarchal structures is fundamental. “It is time for women to support each other, because sometimes society does not support us,” she says.

Participating in Plan programs helped Geovana strengthen her advocacy and leadership skills. She recalls the first time she spoke in public at a local community meeting, which she considers a huge milestone in her life. Finding her voice gave her confidence, and it helped other community members get a new perspective, too.

“At first I was afraid, but I raised my hand and respectively gave them my point of view,” Geovana says. “As young people, we are afraid to have our opinion taken into account, but it is necessary to participate in decision-making spaces.”

And members of Geovana’s community agree.

“We need young people like her to bring us new ideas,” one of the older community leaders adds.

Geovana says she wanted to run for mayor in the last election, but she ultimately decided to finish her education first. She’s currently a university student and plans to run for mayor after graduation.
Geovana says she wanted to run for mayor in the last election, but she ultimately decided to finish her education first. She’s currently a university student and plans to run for mayor after graduation.

The most important issue Geovana wants to tackle in her community is the high rate of teenage pregnancy. “It’s a big problem,” she says. “Girls drop out of school because of pregnancies, or rather, girls in this situation are forced to drop out of school.”

Teenage pregnancy is an ongoing challenge in Bolivia, threatening the lives of young mothers and their children. In every 1,000 births, 62 of the mothers are teenagers — one of the highest rates in Latin America. The situation is most severe in rural areas.

Many families do not teach their children about sex because there’s a lack of information on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

“When I try to talk about these issues with some parents, they sometimes take it badly,” Geovana says. “In the town where I live, these issues are still taboo. We are fighting to have these rights recognized.

“Often, cases of abuse are still settled outside of the justice system. It is our duty to share information about women’s rights and report cases of violence that are punishable by law to the authorities.”

Geovana says her purpose is to fight for the rights of everyone, and that she hopes people around the world will join her.

“I love working to defend human rights,” she says. “In the society we live in, there is a lot of violation of our rights. Even small actions can change things and break through stereotypes.

“I have opened my eyes and I must continue on this path as far as I can. It is time for us to change, to work together — all of us — and always think in terms of equality.”

Geovana’s work is what Determined Optimists are all about: building equality through community. For Geovana and girls like her across the world, will you work together with other Determined Optimists to build equality through Gifts of Hope? If enough members like you give to the projects below, entire communities around the world will be supported this holiday season!