I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Simon Bishop, Director of Policy and Programmes at Plan International UK. I am interested in entering the NGO and Charities communications field as my career advances, so I was grateful to Simon for letting me pick his brain and learn more about such complicated and worthwhile endeavours.
Plan International UK is an children’s charity that was founded in 1937 in Spain to help children orphaned during the Spanish Civil War. It has since expanded in its 80 year history to do its work in 50 countries worldwide, mostly in Africa, South America, and South and Southeast Asia.
Plan International UK currently focuses on girls with their main programme, “Because I am a Girl”. Girls, as my title says, are where it’s at, especially when it comes to making the world a better place. Girls hold the most promise for success and need the most help to escape disadvantaged situations. Our society is unfortunately patriarchal and does not value girls and women equally to boys and men. If you give a girl an education, she will be more successful in life because she will be able to care for herself, find a job, and become upwardly mobile. Providing access to reproductive healthcare allows a girl to control her own body and have reproductive autonomy. Reducing child marriage and female genital mutilation, preventing violence and sexual assault against girls, and promoting girls’ rights helps girls escape oppression to be stronger, more capable women/human beings as they grow up. Changes like these will help create the culture of equality that results in lower rates of poverty and an overall more dynamic society.
As a feminist, I am glad to see Plan International UK specifically working toward ending injustice related to how girls are treated worldwide. One of the FAQs on their page asks, “What about men and boys?” The answer is that Plan International UK’s “programmes do not only work with or target girls because we recognise that to positively change the relations between girls and boys we need to work with both groups.” Girls are the priority for Plan International UK, but society consists of half the opposite gender, who cannot be left out of the equation. If men and boys are brought out of poverty as well, they can help work to bring about equality for girls.
So, the goals are to educate girls so that they can get jobs and support themselves to reduce poverty. But what if there are no jobs to be had? This is why Plan International UK’s work includes economic development. Humanitarian aid is a short-term salve to a crisis, but real poverty can only be solved long-term if the economy is built up. This means catalysing job creation by ensuring entrepreneurs (mainly running small and medium-sized businesses) can get access to finance and training. They also need the right regulatory and legal framework, and an infrastructure so they can get their goods to market—you can’t have strong economy without roads to drive on. Investment (foreign and domestic) and changes in international tax and trade policy also help.
One of my concerns was that organisations like Plan International UK might suffer from eurocentrism, or else others perceive that their agenda is one of West Knows Best. I posed this question to Simon, and he explained that Plan International UK only works in communities that want their support, so it’s not as if a foreign organisation is disrupting a community with the idea that the Western World knows better without their consent. Plan International UK also tailors their approaches to each country differently depending on that country’s needs and culture. Each of the 50 Plan country offices is staffed by local people who are better equipped to make appropriate choices.
So why do I want to go into NGO and charity work? The goals seem insurmountable–so many people need help. Thankfully Plan International UK is only one organization working to improve the world and stamp out poverty. This kind of work is incredibly rewarding, and my strong passion for feminism and social justice won’t let me do anything else.
BONUS: Check out Plan International UK’s SUPER COOL campaign to develop a period emoji! This is one of the best things I have seen out there to reduce the stigma surrounding women’s bodies. NEWS ALERT: Most women bleed from their vaginas every month! Menstruation is real! I have a period every month and I am here to talk about it! Women are constantly silenced and prohibited from talking about their periods because it makes people uncomfortable. Having a period emoji is a great way to use social media to break the taboo.