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Statement by Lydia Zigomo, Regional Director
on the launch of new Regional Champion, 22 November 2022

I am very pleased to be in the same space as a young woman whose goal is the same as ours – realizing the full potential of a ten-year old girl, and all young people in the world.

Shudufhadzo Abigail Musida, or Shudu, as most of us know her, is a familiar face in South Africa and the region. She is a public speaker, author and Miss South Africa 2020.

Shudu is a staunch advocate for mental health. She believes that for any change to happen in our communities and societies, we need to empower young women and girls, and shift the prevailing negative attitudes and stigma attached to mental health challenges.

Ms. Zigomo pins the Bodyright symbol on Ms. Musida at the official launch of the author and former Miss South Africa as the new UNFPA Regional Champion. © UNFPA

In her book, Shudu Finds Her Magic, she tells her own story of being a girl in Limpopo. Struggling with being bullied in school, young Shudu rose above the challenges, and found her own magic and power.

Like Shudu’s journey, a girl or a young person’s life should begin the way every life should – as an open book, in which she can write her own story.

 As a young girl who moves through life, chapter by chapter, she should be nurtured, encouraged and supported. This will give her a greater chance of recognizing that she deserves opportunities and options…

…of considering herself worthy and valued, and

…of contributing her gifts to the world.

As UNFPA and with Shudu at our side, we can tap into each girl’s inner magic and transform this into world where every dream, wish and hope can come true.

Together, we can craft positive stories to tell. 

The world has more than 600 million adolescent girls, and young people make up 60 per cent of the population in the region. All of them have hopes to fulfill and dreams to realize.

For these are the young people who grow up to make laws and to make noise, who break records and barriers, and who inspire social movements and change for a better world.

From marshalling protests for the better, to leading countries to develop, they tell the next generation: "Take up space and cement yourself.  This is our world.”

Shudu, thank you for taking up space, for making magic a reality, and raising your voice to the world.

In her role as our Regional Champion, Shudu will address the challenges that surround mental health.

Misunderstood, stigmatized and often left untreated, mental health has become a crisis.

During COVID-19, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25 per cent, with young people and women – two populations UNFPA serves – affected the most.

Today, conflict and climate-related crises are becoming more widespread, complex and protracted and they continue to take a heavy toll on women and girls.

Humanitarian crises produce psychological suffering and trauma, which threaten the health and well-being of those affected, and erode global efforts for peacebuilding and recovery.

In 2019, nearly 143 million people needed humanitarian aid and protection globally, with more than 35 million women and girls of reproductive age.

UNFPA is at the forefront of 'Healing When Crisis Strikes – providing lifesaving sexual and reproductive health services, and integrating urgently needed services for gender-based violence, and mental health and psychosocial support.

In our work, we see women and girls who have experienced mental trauma, having survived sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, obstetric fistula and online abuse.

Other issues worsen women’s mental health, including unpaid labour and care work within the family, most of which is shouldered by women.

UNFPA's State of World Population 2022 report focused on unintended pregnancy and stated that this is often a causal factor in depression and worsened psychological well-being.

Moreover, research found that women who had become pregnant unintentionally were at a significantly higher risk of developing postpartum depression.

In the digital world, we are experiencing a rise in hostility. Even when such violence is perpetrated in the virtual world, the fear, anxiety, loss of self-esteem and sense of powerlessness are very real and enduring.

The consequences of these violations of a person's privacy, dignity, autonomy, rights and mental health are devastating.

The right to sexual and reproductive health – to make decisions over one’s own body and future – is central to gender equality and empowerment, which in turn accelerate attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mental health and physical health are connected, and emotional ills like anxiety and depression can diminish a person’s quality of life as well as the lives of those around them.

The UNFPA family echoes Shudu’s voice that physical, mental and social well-being are the foundation for peaceful and sustainable societies.

Together with partners like Shudu, we will intensify efforts to address the growing psychosocial needs and more openness about mental illness.

By stepping up our support and removing the stigma surrounding mental health, especially for the youth, we can help lift the burden of trauma off the shoulders of those who have already suffered enough.

Together, let’s put our young people, women and girls, first. Let us give them what they need for a sustainable future of health and well-being.

Instead of ignoring her, let us shine a spotlight on her.

Instead of silencing her, let us hand her a microphone. 

Instead of ending her story, let us give her a pen to write her own chapters, and like Shudu, write an entire book.

On a last note, Shudu and colleagues, thank you for standing with us to:

…Create a physical and virtual world free of abuse of and violence against women and girls.

…Open up space for the youth and girls, so we can hear what they have to say.

…Give them the chance to chart their own destinies and be forces for positive change.