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World Population Day: Celebrating Change Champions

To mark World Population Day 2021 on 11 July, Population Matters gave awards to individuals and organisations across the globe for their effective and brave work promoting reproductive rights, defending the environment, and enlightening the public about the challenges we face and the solutions that are available.

The UN’s annual World Population Day (WPD) draws attention to the urgency and importance of population issues and solutions. It is the most important observance day for Population Matters, and in previous years we have delivered a range of activities around the world – from driving a digivan with a population counter around London, to holding a conference in Lagos, Nigeria, to producing a publication and video on the crucial links between population and the Sustainable Development Goals.

This year we decided to shine a light on inspiring change-makers for their work to raise awareness of human population pressure and to advance the urgently needed, globally beneficial solutions, especially the empowerment of women and girls.  These nine ‘Change Champions’ include a teenage girl fighting child marriage in Zimbabwe, the UK author of a novel addressing the childfree choice, a feminist journalist in Bangladesh, a US website measuring individuals’ environmental footprints, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, for publicly drawing the connection between family size and the environment. The winners received a uniquely-designed award as well as a £500 donation for the charity or cause of their choice.

Kenya was represented twice among our award winners, with the Earth Defender award going to Komb Green Solutions, a community-based organisation formed by reformed youths working to restore the environment in Korogocho slum, and the Women’s Champion going to Wendo Aszed, the founder of Dandelion Africa, a women’s empowerment and community health.

Komb Green tree-planting.jpeg
Komb Green tree-planting.jpeg
Wendo Aszed
Wendo Aszed

“This award means a lot to me and the community we serve. Women in rural areas face socio-cultural barriers that influence their utilization of SRHR services, the world is changing and so must the options women have in ensuring they get the highest standards of health attainable. Reproductive health for us, is not an option, it is a priority.” – Wendo Aszed

Choice Champion winner Emma Gannon is author of ‘Olive’, a best-selling novel addressing the choice to be childfree.

“I wrote OLIVE as a way to connect with all the women in my life and those who may read the book: the women who choose to be mothers, the women who long to be mothers, the women who aren’t sure and the women who don’t want to be mothers at all. I am thrilled to be receiving this award by Population Matters, I’m in awe of the work they do in bringing important themes to the forefront of conversation.” – Emma Gannon

The winner of our Media Story category was Bangladeshi journalist Kohinur Khyum Tithila, whose Dhaka Tribune story on being childfree was just one of a powerful series she has written on feminist issues.

“I received a lot of flak on social media when the story was published. However, I was surprised to see how many people, both men and women, said that my story resonates with their stories. Women opting out from motherhood are not emotionally stunted, not ripping apart the fabric of the society and not pushing the human race to extinction. I know Population Matters has often encountered the same claims, and that it seeks to celebrate the choice to have a small family and be childfree.” – Kohinur Khyum Tithila

Our youngest award recipient was 17-year-old Natsiraishe Maritsa living in rural Zimbabwe. She teaches underage girls taekwondo lessons to build their confidence and hosts discussions to warn her community of the harms of child marriage and discourage girls from getting married early.

Natsiraishe with young mother
Natsiraishe with young mother

“It is an honour to be a recipient of the Young Campaigner Award. I appreciate this gesture greatly, it motivates and inspires me and most of all makes me feel that I am not alone in this journey of bringing a change to human attitude. My chief aim is to see girls getting educated and empowered with life skills.” – Natsiraishe Maritsa

We were pleased to see resulting media coverage for Wendo Aszed and Komb Green, and Kohinur Khyum Tithila. We’re delighted to be able to draw attention to and reward all these real-life heroes. Their hard and often unpaid work directly improves people’s lives and helps catalyse the social and cultural shifts we desperately need to secure a brighter future on this planet.


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