Inspiring feature: Sarah Hesterman of Girl Up-An advocate of gender equality in Middle East

I love watching TED talks and during my spare time, I make it a point to watch 2 to 3 inspiring TED talks to keep me motivated throughout the day. So while I was enjoying the free time I had watching these talks on Youtube one fine day, I happen to stumble upon a very interesting talk from a young woman who was living in the Middle East and it piqued my interest because of her strong advocacy of gender equality. I was so impressed with this young woman that I immediately reached out to her through email and requested for an interview .

Luckily enough, she responded to me and I felt very honored that she gave me the opportunity to feature her here in my blog! (She has given interviews and written articles for NPR, the Huffington Post, NBC, etc.) Also, she was named one of the BBC’s 100 Women, Salt Magazine’s 100 Most Inspiring Women, Malala Yousafzai’s #GirlHero.

Here’s my email interview for Sarah. This is to inspire all women both young and old, to fight for what is right, aim for your goals, being strong and independent and always keep that positivity in you. Lets make a difference and contribute to our society. I admire these types of people. Instead of spending too much time on superficial things, why don’t we spend it with enhancing ourselves? Add more skills and gain wisdom, read more, connect with interesting people who will inspire you and bing out the creativity in you.

Can you tell me

a brief background about yourself?

I was born in the United States, and moved fourteen times before I graduated high school. While I was living in Qatar in 2014, I became involved with the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign and learned about the challenges facing adolescent girls regarding their rights to education, economic opportunity, security, governance, and health. After spending the summer engaging with U.S. Congress members to garner support for the Girls Count Act, a bipartisan bill that recognized the importance of birth registration for children (and girls in particular) around the world, I began what has now been four life-changing years of grassroots and legislative advocacy. I am now in my third year of university as a student of Long Island University Global, an intensive study abroad program which has provided me the opportunity to study in Central America, Europe, and North Africa. Along with being a full-time student, I am also a U.S. delegate to the Youth Assembly at the UN, where I promote the role of girls and women in development policy. I am proud to know that my country is full of young people who are genuinely interested in effecting progressive, positive change at a local, regional, and national level despite the challenges we may be facing

What inspires you to promote and be an advocate of gender equality?

I have had the incredible opportunity to travel around the world and meet women who are creating change in their communities every single day. I think that everyone should do what is in their power to improve the world around them, and that it is important to channel our passions into social change. For example, I personally am quite interested in politics and the legislative process, so I try to do what I can to promote the role of girls and women in policy. If someone likes to write, they can start a blog about their views on gender issues. If they like to take pictures, they can document the stories of women in their communities. There is really no limit on what we can all do to advocate for ourselves, and I am truly inspired by the people around me who are consistently and persistently proving this.

How is it like being the daughter of a US military? Is it difficult?

I am really thankful for all of the moving around that came from being a military child, as it exposed me to the effects of globalization from a fairly young age. It also allowed me to better understand the influence of the U.S. abroad. I’m extremely lucky to have parents who encourage me to exercise my right to questioning and challenging different policies and actions carried out by the U.S.

How was it like living in the Middle East?

Living in the Middle East was incredible! It was there that I first learned how important it is to speak up for myself and for others. I first became involved with Girl Up while I lived in Qatar, which let me understand the issues girls where contending with on a much deeper, more personal level. It also taught me a lot about what I needed to improve on if I wanted to be a better leader and a stronger advocate. My eyes were truly opened to an array of global challenges that I never knew existed, and I had an inspiring community around me that was passionate about working together to create solutions.

What are your dreams or goals? Aside from all these things you have already accomplished at such a young age?

Thank you! I aspire to be a legislative advocate and foreign policy expert regarding issues of sustainable development, primarily gender equality. I would like to advocate for policy that supports the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as I want the United States to be a country that prioritizes human rights, the environment, and good governance. I want to elevate the work of NGOs and campaigns that have adopted the Agenda all the way to Capitol Hill, advocating for the enactment of legislation that furthers their impact. In the latter capacity, I would aspire to counsel members of Congress on the impact, benefits, and disadvantages of legislation.

Who’s your favorite philosopher and why?

I love this question! I think that the story of Hypatia is fascinating, as she was one of Alexandria’s preeminent female philosophers. It’s really cool to look that far back in history and see how many contributions she made to mathematics and astronomy, especially during an era where schools of philosophy were mostly dominated by men. She met a tragic end, but throughout her life it is documented that she was tenacious and outspoken about her beliefs, which I find pretty inspiring.

Whats your favorite quote?

One of my favorites is this, which reminds me of why I care so much about fighting for gender equality: “There is no great force for change, for peace, for justice and democracy, for inclusive economic growth than a world of empowered women.” -Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

Last book you’ve read?

The last one I read was an old published dissertation that I picked up at a used book store in London. It’s about the complicity of white women in British Imperialism, primarily during the 18th century. I think it’s important that people read books which challenge their privileges and preconceptions of history.

What advice can you give to all the young people today?

As unfair as it may seem (after all, we haven’t been alive for very long), responsibility for our planet doesn’t just fall onto the shoulders of adults. It’s also on us young people to mobilize our communities so future generations can live knowing that their rights are protected unconditionally. I would recommend connecting with local grassroots organizations that work on issues you’re interested in, or starting your own platform where people in your community can talk and organize. It’s important to researc organizations that line up with your values and ideals and to fight smart. If you are able to, reach out to people in public office through letters, tweets, in-person meetings, or whatever you can do to get their attention. Tell them your hopes for young people, and inspire them to start working on generating the changes you want to see in your communities and your countries so that when you take over the helm, a movement has already been set in motion.

Sarah is indeed an inspiration to all women! I’d like to thank her for this wonderful privilege for a collaboration.

To know more about her advocacy, visit her blog at www.sarhest.com

Follow her on Instagram @sarhest

More inspiring people to feature here in my blog soon.

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