March 26, 2017

#BeBoldForChange: Shakira the Young Health Leader

To mark International Women’s Day 2017, I have conducted a series of interviews celebrating women I feel have had a positive influence on society. The second woman is Shakira Choonara.

As a young South African (27-years-old), my passion and goals are centered on improving health systems, especially in low-and-middle-income settings. I am presently pursuing a PhD (public health) and working towards my ultimate dream of becoming the next Minister of Health in SA, or perhaps even being the President of our beautiful nation! As a qualified demographer, I have worked and continue to work on several aspects of healthcare in various regions of the world. I’d describe myself as an academic or researcher by day, though by night and in any spare time I engage in activism around anti-racism, disability rights and broader development issues.

1. What is the special thing in your life that makes you feel bold?

Boldness undoubtedly emanates from your dreams and aspirations. We all have our dreams and since I was six years old my dream was to be the President of South Africa. I still recall the laughter it often attracted from teachers, my classmates and just about everyone I met. But my dreams give me purpose every day, perhaps not be the president specifically, but to be a leader and to better the lives of ordinary citizens because I simply cannot live and accept inequality, discrimination, and injustice. Secondly, the support and encouragement from family, friends and my mentors play a great role in spurring me on! Finally, accolades and recognition are definitely emboldening, like being named the European Development Days Young Leader for Health in 2015.

2. What does it mean to you to be a bold woman in the year 2017?

Despite the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), over time we are witnessing the erosion of democracy, unity, dignity and a loss of respect for human rights. It easy to fall into the trap of silence, neutrality and ignorance of these injustices but in order to truly foster change in 2017 and beyond it will take truly bold women across the different spheres of society to stand up against ever-growing discrimination.

3. What important roles do you think women around you, including yourself, play in society?

There is, of course, great success to be noted amongst high-flying executives and women at the helm of major global institutions. However, I believe it is ordinary women, especially those in low-paying jobs, who make the greatest contribution to the functioning of our societies. It is the domestic-workers/ cleaners, women in agriculture, childminders and stay-at-home mothers who are often not recognised yet should be thought of as the backbone of growth and development in our societies.

4. How does your career or job you do show that women are capable of achieving excellence?

Throughout my career, I have interacted with a range of truly inspiring individuals both globally and nationally. Through interaction with World Health Organisation Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, at the European Development Days in 2015 and watching her in action at Women Deliver 2016, I was struck by her achievements, leadership and contributions to global health. European Union (EU) high level representative Federica Mogherini is another woman at the forefront of the global political sphere who is an epitome of female excellence.

5. What mistake (s) have you made in life that you think young girls could learn from you? 

Bold women make no mistakes and we live with no regrets but only reflections of lessons learned and the way forward!

6. What advice do you have for young girls who want to be as bold as you are?

The word impossible should never exist in the mind or vocabulary of a bold woman, do not ever underestimate the power of your strength, your voice and perspectives as a young person and stop at nothing to achieve your dreams!

7. What changes do you hope to see, with regard to inclusion of women, in the next 10 years?

Youth, no matter their expertise, qualifications or proven capabilities, continue to be exploited, constrained and excluded from managerial positions or even development discussions. Over the next ten years these barriers must be broken down to unleash and draw on the energy, potential and innovation of youth especially young women from across the world!

Follow Shakira on Twitter: @ChoonaraShakira

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