On World AIDS Day 2020 (1st of December), mothers2mothers (m2m) was delighted to join forces with Marie Claire UK for an inspiring virtual panel discussion: You Can’t Be What You Can’t See – The Power of Role Models.
Moderated by Andrea Thompson, Editor in Chief at Marie Claire UK, the panel brought together an impressive group of women who engaged in a thought-provoking and uplifting hour-long conversation on a wide range of topics, including role models, social media, m2m’s work, and the impact of COVID-19. m2m Spokeswoman Nozi Samela from South Africa was joined by Sophie Williams, activist and author of Anti-Racist Ally: An Introduction to Action and Activism and Millennial Black, and Anna Mathur, psychotherapist and Author of The Sunday Times’ Bestselling Mind Over Mother.
The conversation took place on the penultimate day of m2m’s flagship She’s Got The Power campaign (launched on 9th October), highlighting one of its core themes—the tremendous impact that role models have in helping adolescent girls and young women unlock their power and realise their potential. At m2m, we believe that the girls of today are the unstoppable women of tomorrow—and key to unlocking this potential has been the strength of role modelling that the women we employ as Peer Mentors and Mentor Mothers provide for their clients in sub-Saharan Africa. For the last 19 years, these inspirational role models have used their personal experiences and understanding of their community to show girls and young women the way to creating healthy, thriving futures for themselves, their families, and their communities.
This work has taken on a particularly urgent significance following the dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa were already facing significant challenges before the spread of COVID-19—from early teenage pregnancy, early marriage, and a high exposure to HIV—which have been made harder as they have been deprived of their familiar and usual support networks. Uplifting girls has never been more vital.
Bringing her perspective as a psychotherapist to the discussion, Anna kicked off the discussion by explaining the triggers and values that role models bring from the very early stages of our lives:
“As children, we find ourselves scrambling around. Who do we look to? Where do we look to, to tell us how to make sense of the world around us and the challenges we face? For so many people those challenges come so young in life… We learn through watching—right from childhood—we emulate things, we learn through seeing the behaviour of people around us…It gives us hope when we see someone who is a few steps ahead of us—be of age or experience. It gives us hope that there is more that is attainable for us, especially if in childhood we had people or teachers tell us that we can’t achieve things.”
Sophie talked about her challenges in finding a realistic and relatable role model growing up as a Black woman in the UK, and the prejudices she encountered later on, working in the advertising industry:
“As a Black woman growing up in the UK, there weren’t many people who reminded me of myself. Working in the advertising industry, there wasn’t anyone around me in a similarly senior position, who looked like me in any way. People would come to meetings and presume that I was going to be taking notes, and fetching coffee, because that’s what people who looked like me were doing in those spaces… It made me more conscientious about trying to be visible for other people and to create opportunities for people like me, because there is no reason for these people to be underrepresented.”
Nozi shared her experience of meeting m2m’s Mentor Mothers for the first time after she was diagnosed with HIV in 2005 at just 19 years old, during her first pregnancy, and how, their support and role modelling showed her what was possible:
“I was shocked when one of them—an m2m Mentor Mother—came up to me and told me that she too was living with HIV. When she told me that it was possible for me to give birth to an HIV-negative child, everything shifted… it changed my perspective. It made me believe that maybe there was a chance that I would survive my diagnosis and I got courage to tell my family about my HIV status. Giving birth to an HIV-negative child then made me realise that, had I not met m2m’s Mentor Mothers, perhaps I wouldn’t be here right now.”
It is conversations like these that remind us that there is so much more that unites us, than divides us, and of what can be achieved when women support each other and lift each other up—which are welcome reminders, especially after such a challenging year. If you are looking to be inspired, you can watch, or rewatch, the full panel below and follow us on social media to make sure you’re kept up to date with m2m’s upcoming events and conversations.