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06 February 2022

EmpowerGirlsNOW: envision a world where all women live in dignity and equality

1. Could you tell us about EmpowerGirlsNOW? When and how was the EmpowerGirlsNOW project started? What are your Mission and Vision?

EmpowerGirlsNOW was incorporated in New Jersey in 2020. It is a new nonprofit organization with 501c3 status. Still, most importantly, it was formed to support young girls worldwide who are victims of harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage. In addition, we also focus on providing sanitary hygiene materials to women and girls who don't have one. At EmpowerGirlsNOW, we envision a world where all women live in dignity and equality. We advocate for women's full potential and contribute to removing obstacles to their total growth. We are women who ourselves were raised by strong moms and big sisters.

2. What are the successes you can boast of over the years?

We are a new organization, and thus far, we have begun successful collaborations with like-minded organizations that work on the issue we care about. This is something that will contribute to the work we plan to undertake in the future.  We have also collected clothing, books, and sanitary items from generous donors, which will be in transit to those regions in need soon.

3. What are the initiatives that you find most rewarding?

Liya: I was raised by a strong independent mother who has supported me throughout my life and still does. I owe my success to her continued love and support. What is most rewarding is that I have created a support system for those young girls who aren't fortunate enough to get the help they need from their own families. In addition, I get to interact and work with other nonprofit organizations where our partnership allows me to share diverse subject matter expertise.

Dunia:   I was raised by a strong mother who taught me how rewarding it is to give to others and be of service to others. She sent me to school without going to school herself. She is my first symbol of strength and kindness. The most rewarding part of working with EmpowerGirlsNow is knowing that somehow, a girl who is confronted with FGM and Child Marriage could be protected through the small things we do at our organization.

4. I have noticed that you place a lot of emphasis on education and women's leadership. Why is that?

We at EmpowerGirlsNow believe that education is a path to freedom.  By educating young girls, we believe that we have equipped them with the tools they need to grow financially and learn to make their own decisions.  We believe education will help young girls become better citizens, get better-paid jobs, and understand the difference between good and bad. Education can show them the importance of hard work and, at the same time, help them grow and develop. Thus, we can shape a better society to live in by knowing and respecting rights, laws, and regulations.

As educated women ourselves, we have seen the benefits of education in our lives, community, and society. EmpowerGirlsNOW's primary motto is that an educated woman or girl can make better decisions in her life, including by becoming a change agent within her community and society as far as ending FGM and Child Marriage is concerned. Our projects also reflect this as we employ training and education to change attitudes on FGM and Child Marriage and work with educational institutions.   

5. A specific question for you, Liya: what drives someone like you, a full-time dentist, to start a nonprofit organization dealing with such important and sensitive issues?

Since I was a young girl, I have always wanted to be in the healthcare field for various reasons, one being to help others. After completing my DDS degree and working in a hospital setting and private practice, I knew I wanted to do more. Running a nonprofit organization is challenging while working full-time as a dentist. I work six days, while I allocate a few hours after work and on the weekends to achieve a very important task: to change a young girl's life somewhere in the world. The look on every girl's face when receiving our help makes it all worth it. 

6. What do you envision for EmpowerGirlsNOW in the future?

EmpowerGirlsNow has various projects planned. As a start-up organization, our first project is the 'School of Promise Start-UP campaign'. The School of Promise Campaign is to fund our very first educational center in Ethiopia. In addition, we plan to partner with local rural, regional schools and provide them with school supplies, and in return, the school will add women's health and leadership classes to their curriculum. Ethiopia is a start. Furthermore, we envision EmpowerGirlsNow reaching more countries such as Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo that has a high prevalence of FGM and CM.

7. As a volunteer and a lawyer, this question is for you, Dunia. What is your lifelong dream?

My lifelong dream is to stand for the rights of others.  I want to be a voice to the voiceless. There is no more powerful tool than the law to do this. I am happy to serve the cause of human rights through EmpowerGirlsNow. I am so eager to show others that practices such as FGM and Child marriage which are seen by many as ordinary acts are actually crimes that need to be penalized in courts of law. I plan to educate people about the law and that it is never ok to be silent but that they need to speak up.

I also want to help countries with defective legal standards on FGM to harmonize their law to international, regional, and national standards that protect women and girls from FGM. I plan to commit my time and energy to pursuing this cause. 

8. What can people do to contribute to this important initiative?

People can contribute via various channels. They can sponsor a child, sponsor a school, provide monthly, annual, or one-time donations. They can donate items such as clothing, books, stationery, female sanitary products, etc... They can also sign up to volunteer since we need more workforce for our events and the routine tasks of our office. We also invite people to sponsor our events, Gala's and get involved.    

About Liya Mohammed

Dr. Liya Mohammed received her Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Biochemistry from Manhattanville College in 2010. Dr. Mohammed was one of the 10 awardees of the castle pin, an award that demonstrated leadership above and beyond the requirements of any role, job or scholarship. Dr. Mohammed then continued with her professional degree and graduated in 2014, obtaining her DDS degree from New York University College of Dentistry. Upon completing her doctoral degree, Dr. Mohammed was selected to complete a multi-disciplinary hospital residency program at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. Dr. Mohammed then moved on to her carrier as an associate dentist at a private practice, 'My Smile Dental.' 

Dr. Mohammed is an elite member of the American Dental Association (ADA), Hudson County Dental Association (HCDA), and Cosmetic Dental Association (CDA). Dr. Mohammed is named a preferred Invisalign Provider and completed her training from Progressive Orthodontics, allowing her to provide complex orthodontic treatments. Dr. Mohammed is also a research scientist, where she has researched oral cancer and the clinical application of dental products.

Dr. Mohammed enjoys art and music in her free time. In addition, she founded EmpowerGirlsNOW, a nonprofit organization to help and educate young women who are victims of female genital mutilation and child marriage in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Dr. Mohammed is very caring and passionate about dentistry and is a voice to those who are victims of traditional patriarchal practices, and stands for women's equality.

About Dunia Mekonnen

Dunia Mekonnen Tegegn is a women's rights lawyer who has been working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Eastern Africa Regional Office (OHCHR EARO), the United Nations Agency for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment and the United Nations Children's Fund in her country Ethiopia. 

In 2016, Dunia was named as the first Ethiopian/African woman to receive a National Security LLM with distinction from Georgetown University's Women's Law and Public Policy Program.  

Dunia received her Bachelor of Laws degree from Bahirdar University, Ethiopia, and her master's degree in Human Rights from Addis Ababa University. 

Dunia currently serves as board secretary and cofounder of EmpowerGirlsNow, supporting its projects in Africa. 

About EmpowerGirlsNOW

EmpowerGirlsNOW is a nonprofit organization that supports young women affected by Harmful Traditional Practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage.

For more information, please visit www.empowergirlsnow.com

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