New York: The Goalkeepers Global Goals Award 2018 event organized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) concluded recently with three young change-makers, each in their individual capacity, being recognized for their work toward achieving a sustainable development goal (SDG).

The Goalkeepers award was co-hosted by Unicef, and celebrates outstanding youth-focused work directly linked to 17 SDGs. The award categories include Progress Award, Changemaker Award, Campaign Award, and Global Goalkeeper Award.

The Progress Award was bagged by Dysnus Kisilu of Kenya for his work in renewable energy and smallholder agriculture. A social entrepreneur, Kisilu is the founder of Solar Freeze, which has provided solar-powered irrigation kits and cold storage devices to over 3,000 farmers.

Amika George, an Indian-origin Briton and a high school student, was given the Campaign Award for #FreePeriods, a movement, which called on the UK government to provide free menstrual products for girls from low-income families so that they don’t end up missing school. Subsequently, the UK government sanctioned £1.5 million in funding.

On an average, a British woman spends £150 on sanitary napkins or tampons in a year. “Not all girls have access to funds, especially when they are young. They use tissues, socks, old newspapers on the days they bleed. We must support them so that having periods is not one more reason to miss school," said George.

George said she was aware of how acute the problem of access to low-cost hygienic menstrual products is in India and hopes to collaborate with people to create more awareness about period poverty. She also said the move to get rid of GST on sanitary napkins in India was a positive one.

“In UK, tampons and sanitary napkins attract a luxury tax. Biscuits are deemed necessary items and exempt from tax, but women get taxed for bleeding. The core issue is to make menstrual products affordable for women," she said. Her advice for other young activists working in this field? “Use social media to create awareness, find other people who are like-minded, and be bold and brave in order to stop this topic from being a taboo conversation point."

The final award for the evening was the Changemaker Award for Nadia Murad, a 24-year-old Yazidi survivor of genocide and human trafficking. Murad made an impassioned appeal for action to save her community from the Islamic State.

In the Goalkeepers Report 2018 released earlier this month, Bill and Melinda Gates had written that poor countries can chart a new course by investing in their young people. They reiterated this sentiment at the event.

“The idea of the report and event is to show how the world is doing and what innovations are helping. People need to be aware of the incredible progress the world is making when it comes to the SDGs," said Bill Gates.

“Good news does not stick since fear-creating headlines grab attention. But, in our conversations with the youth, we have found that the youth thinks differently. They want to get positive messages out," said Melinda Gates, explaining why an event to celebrate the good work of young people is important. In fact, according to the Goalkeepers Global Youth Poll conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, 79% of 12 to 24-year-olds in lower- and middle-income countries said they were optimistic about the future of the world, compared to half in high-income countries.

Melinda Gates said that while contraception, sanitation, financial inclusion, early vaccination and other health issues will remain the focus for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), it is looking at education in Africa and India, too. “We need to destigmatize contraceptives and health issues and we need to invest in women because we know that healthy women invest in the whole family. These are the biggest anti-poverty tools," she said.

The author was in New York at the invitation of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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