Olympic champion Marnie McBean with students at the Lemuru School in Kenya during the Because I am a Girl Girl Impact trip in September 2009.

Sixteen-year-old Maneesa Sotheeswaran epitomizes the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day: Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.

While most girls her age are still trying to figure out who they are, Sotheeswaran already knows that she wants to work in the international relations sector and has kick-started her career as a speaker with Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign ‘ a global initiative to help girls in the developing world.

“I want equity and equality within the world and I want to be a little part of the movement to change that,” said Sotheeswaran, who is from Toronto.

When she was just shy of 14, she became a part of the campaign’s speakers bureau, which trains girls between the ages of 14 to 22 to speak and advocate for girls’ rights.

So far, she has already spoken at numerous events and conferences, travelled to London, England, as a youth delegate to voice her opinions on Because I am a Girl’s latest 2011 report, and gone to Ottawa to contribute to the International Day of the Girl movement.

“In the beginning I only saw it as an ultimate goal that was very idealistic and then to actually achieve it was amazing,” she said about Oct. 11 being formally declared as the International Day of the Girl Child.

Sotheeswaran says becoming a speaker has helped her overcome some of her own issues.

“I went through various stages in life where I basically told myself that I needed to be a certain way in order to fit in,” she said. “I made friends that I wasn’t very proud of making in the past and decisions that basically didn’t reflect on who I was, it only reflected on my insecurities.”

Triple Olympic gold medallist and Because I am a Girl ambassador Marnie McBean says the key to fighting gender inequality and marginalization is to empower young girls like Sotheeswaran.

She has been on the receiving end and is now ready to help those in need.

“There have been moments where people have helped me,” she said. “And you know, I did make a career in sport, and when it was maybe a bit ahead of its time for people accepting the fact that I could be an aggressive and powerful, muscular woman who is successful.”

Paula Roberts, executive vice president of marketing and development for Plan Canada, says to change the plight of girls in the world, they must first help girls here.

By addressing issues girls in Canada face they can then use it as a springboard to talk about issues in the developing world and empower girls to help each other.

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