Melissa Ortiz and Isabella Echeverri fight against discrimination on the Colombian women’s national team.
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16 May 2019 | Volume 1, Issue 22
  A note from our editor:
In this week’s Assembly, we feature four women who are fighting to make the world a safer and more equal place for the next generation.

Entrepreneur Saba Khalid writes about creating a chatbot to answer girls’ questions about topics typically taboo in Pakistan — including menstruation, sexual harassment, depression and familial pressures to get married.

Soccer players Melissa Ortiz and Isabella Echeverri tell us about their decision to speak out against the discrimination they experienced on the Colombian women’s national team, even though it meant putting their careers in jeopardy.

And Sara Mora discusses her activism in the U.S. to change perceptions and policies around immigration.

Learning from these leaders gives me hope for our future — I hope their words do the same for you.

Career profile
How artificial intelligence is changing the way girls in Pakistan discuss reproductive health
Saba Khalid
  By Saba Khalid
It all started one day with a backache. I didn’t know where it came from and I didn’t know how I could ease it, but every day it was getting harder and harder for me to breathe. The body has a strange way of communicating what the heart wants. And when you don’t listen to it, the body tries to aggressively wake you up to it.

Looking back, I think what my heart needed was a sense of purpose. All of my life, I had tried to find purpose through love and relationships, travel, high-paying yet mind-numbing jobs, servitude to family and friends. But I hadn’t discovered it yet.

In 2016, I started looking for role models, hoping they would help me on my quest for meaning. That landed me at a tech incubator in Karachi called The Nest i/o, where young women were daring to start their own tech businesses. I spent four months learning from these incredible young female leaders.

During that time, I had been thinking about how progressive topics about women’s empowerment aren’t often discussed in Pakistani society. I wanted to find a way to start those conversations. Inspired by the strength and determination of the women I met at The Nest i/o, I decided to make an animated heroine whose superpower would be the ability to talk about the least discussed topics in our society. I named her Raaji.

My team and I began by creating one-minute animated videos about Raaji on typically taboo topics. Honor, toxic masculinity, child marriages, lack of women’s mobility, sexual harassment and women’s reproductive health, Raaji voiced it all. We thought an animated series with fictional storylines would help us ease into conversations with girls on these subjects.

When we screened our Raaji videos in classrooms all across Sindh, we realized we had opened Pandora’s box. Young girls started to ask questions — hundreds of questions. Some they asked in person, others landed in our social media inboxes while others came from phone calls, texts and emails.

We noticed that issues about reproductive health kept coming up. As a small team, we couldn’t answer these health questions 24/7. Some required the help of gynocologists and others needed psychologists. And so I wondered, how could we make this animated series into a two-way conversation? How could we connect them to the right health resources? How could we promise them complete anonymity so they could ask questions without fear of being found out?

Read more.
Reader spotlight 
“I look forward to reading Assembly because of the immense satisfaction and inspiration it provides. I feel like I have credible representation through it, and that I have a voice which is capable and deserving of being heard.

Assembly makes me aware of the challenges being faced by people from around the world, but it also tells me that those challenges can be overcome. And that I can and should always play my part.”
— Taapti, 16, India

We love meeting our readers and hearing from members of our community. Tell us about yourself or about your ideas for Assembly using our submission form — and you could be featured in a future issue!

Q&A with undocumented immigrant rights activist Sara Mora
Sara Mora
  By McKinley Tretler

As an undocumented immigrant living in the U.S., many aspects of 22-year-old Sara Mora’s life are out of her control. She cannot vote, apply for student financial aid or travel outside the country. She doesn’t know if she’ll be forced to leave the place she calls home. But the one thing she is in control of is her voice — and she’s using it to fight for her community.

Born in Costa Rica, Sara immigrated to the U.S. illegally with her parents when she was 3 years old. She grew up in New Jersey and at 16, she joined the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme.

Passed in 2012, DACA offers a two-year renewable legal status to undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children. Recipients receive a social security number and are eligible to get a driver's license, job and start on a path to potential citizenship.

But in September 2017, the Trump administration ordered an end to the DACA programme — meaning almost 800,000 people like Sara are at risk of being deported when their protections expire. The administration requested that the Supreme Court review the programme.

Sara uses social media to call attention to the challenges faced by the undocumented community. She shares her story, provides news updates about immigration and highlights other activists and nonprofit organisations. She encourages people to vote and discusses what she has learned from her conversations with leaders about immigration policy and reform.

I spoke with Sara about her experience with DACA, online activism and her hopes for the future.

McKinley Tretler (MT): How did DACA help you and your siblings?
Sara Mora (SM):
DACA helped my sister and I because it opened limited opportunities to function normally within our spaces — for example, by providing a driver’s license opportunity, working authorization and a social security number. Driving to school and college, supporting our family by being able to drive my mom to hospital appointments as well as being able to drive to work has meant everything.

MT: Why did you decide to start speaking out?
I started speaking out because I realized that the government was protecting my community less and less. I opened my eyes to the burden that came with knowing the government would not take action to protect undocumented people. The more I began to see deportations and attacks on my community during high school and then in college, I realized speaking out would be an act of revolution.

Read more.
Sound off!
For these Colombian soccer players, equality is the goal
Colombia soccer
  By Tess Thomas
When soccer players Melissa Ortiz and Isabella Echeverri decided to speak out against the discrimination they experienced on the Colombian women’s national team, they knew their careers were on the line.

“Meli, we’re never going to step on a soccer field again,” Isabella recalls saying. After watching their teammate Daniela Montoya get cut from the 2016 Colombian Olympic team for going to the press about their poor treatment, Melissa and Isabella had stayed silent out of fear of similar retribution. But this February, the pair decided to finally go public with their allegations against the Colombian Football Federation. “We didn’t want girls in the future to suffer from the same issues that we suffered and to also have to keep their mouths shut,” Melissa shares.

In a video posted to social media, Melissa and Isabella described how the federation forced female players to pay for their own flights, stopped paying their stipends and made them use old jerseys. Their video went viral in Colombia, with supporters across the country rallying behind Melissa and Isabella. The men’s national soccer team expressed their support and Colombian Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez reached out to discuss how the government could aid their efforts. Melissa and Isabella credit FIFPro, the international union for soccer players, and ACOLFUTPRO, the Colombian players’ union, as a constant source of legal advice and strategy.

Their fight is part of a wider call for equality in the women’s soccer around the world. This year, the U.S. women’s national team sued the national federation for gender discrimination. Members of the Afghan women’s national team recently accused male coaches and officials of sexual abuse. And the Argentine women’s national team has criticised the soccer-loving country's lack of support for its female players.

Amidst this turning point in women’s soccer, I spoke with Melissa and Isabella about the discrimination they experienced on the team and how they’re working with the Colombian government to change the women’s national team for good.

Read more.
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  Assembly publishes original work by girls, for girls. And we would love to include your voice! Send us your ideas and you could be featured in the next issue.
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