A Conversation with Youth Advocate, Natasha Wang Mwansa
By Priscilla Pangan, Youth Ambassador for the Canadian Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases
If you were at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference you have likely heard of Natasha Wang Mwansa. During the conference’s opening plenary, the 18-year-old youth advocate from Zambia gave an electrifying speech which earned a standing ovation from heads of state, including Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and more than 8,000 conference delegates. Two weeks after Women Deliver, Natasha continues to make international headlines. Now that is the power of youth action.
Natasha brought this same energy to a panel discussion hosted by Uniting to Combat NTDs at the conference. This time, she lent her voice and youth perspective to a conversation about interventions to address neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and how they impact the lives of women and girls in the world’s poorest and most marginalized communities. I sat down with her afterwards to chat more about progress towards elimination and control of NTDs, the role of youth in this work, and tackling gender inequities overall. (This interview has been condensed and edited.)
Q: How did you get started in youth advocacy?
A: For me it was a very interesting journey. I was always the youngest and smallest in my class and was constantly bullied. At first I couldn’t really stand up for myself. One day I decided that it was too much and I started speaking up. My voice was my greatest defense.
As time went by, my dad would share news stories with me and I would read about amazing women, like Malala Yousafzai and Michelle Obama. I followed their work closely and was so inspired. So I joined my school’s the Junior Engineers, Technicians and Scientists or JETS club, I did debate club, I would win school awards. It all started from this place of self-discovery, but I knew I could do more.
An advocacy organization came to our school and they wanted young people to take part. I thought, why not? It could go bad, it could go well – but either way, I should do it. I was the first young person they had on board. They picked me, and that was very empowering. After getting exposure to human rights and children’s health and rights work through them, I decided I was all in.