If you were elected mayor of your city or town, what would you do with that power? What if it happened when you were 12 years old?
For Yordana in Bolivia, it was a no-brainer.
At just 12 years old, she was elected child mayor of her municipality in Santa Cruz, as part of a Takeover organized by Plan International and local leadership.
During Takeovers, girls and other young people assume leadership roles in corporate and government settings across the world to participate in decisions that affect them, gain real-world experience and increase opportunities for girls to harness their power.
Before becoming mayor, Yordana was already participating in a few of Plan’s initiatives in Bolivia which work to promote girls’ agency and strengthen their leadership skills. These programs motivated her to become more involved in advocacy and, ultimately, apply for the position of child mayor.
“I have never felt prouder of myself,” Yordana says of her election.
As part of her role, Yordana organizes workshops and shares her knowledge about children’s rights and gender equality with other young people. Her main focus is on ending violence against women and girls, and the topic she feels strongest about is human trafficking and smuggling.
“Many bad things happen out of fear or because we don’t know our rights,” Yordana says.
Between 2014 and 2018, there were more than 3,000 reported cases of trafficking in Bolivia — although the real number is likely much higher. Trafficking often goes unreported because many young victims don’t know they’re being trafficked, they’re afraid to ask for help or they don’t know who to turn to.
“With violence against women, I think education begins at home,” Yordana says. “Boys should be educated so that they respect girls, and girls should know how to make themselves respected and get people to respect them. I want to break stereotypes and put an end to violence.”
More than a leader, Yordana considers herself an activist.
“It’s only really this year that we have been given the space to take part and have a voice in politics, and that’s thanks to the influential work Plan International did with authorities to convince them to give girls a space to express themselves,” she says.
Her favorite part about being child mayor is being able to help other girls overcome their challenges and believe in themselves. With the goal of becoming a psychologist in her future, Yordana is especially interested in helping children who experience abuse and violence.
“I’m interested in motivating other girls so they can be empowered, gain self-confidence, lose their fear and be comfortable to express their views,” Yordana says. “And express how they feel about things, especially political issues.”
Girls and women’s involvement in politics is vital to gender equality, and in Bolivia, 53% of elected government positions are held by women (compared to only 27% in the U.S.). While it’s surprising for people in her community to see such a young girl in a political space, the response has been very positive.
“They know her better than they know me,” current mayor Pablo Eddie Guaristi says.
Yordana’s leadership has become so valuable to her community that she was even offered a scholarship to a university in Santa Cruz so she can pursue her career goals.
“I’ve been able to talk to professional psychologists, and that has motivated me to [pursue] the degree,” Yordana says. “And I think studying psychology will help me talk to other girls who have been psychologically damaged, because it’s not just physical abuse that they suffer, but psychological violence, and that degree will help me in the future to help them.”
For now, Yordana is continuing to raise awareness about violence and trafficking in her town.
“I want girls to be free — not to be afraid to go out on the streets alone — and for girls and women not to depend on anyone, to be who they want to be,” Yordana says.