Girl Activists SPEAK OUT at the United Nations

On the afternoon of Friday, October 11th, the United Nations ECOSOC Chamber was overflowing; not only with the UN member states, UN agencies and civil society that occupied the 600 seat arena, but also with an enthusiasm and sense of hope that reflected the empowering mission of this, the International Day of the Girl Speak Out. Co-hosted by the governments of Canada, Turkey, Peru and The Working Group on Girls (WGG), the event provided a platform for seven girl activists from around the world to share the work that they are leading in their communities and to hear meaningful feedback from UN member states, agencies and hundreds of girl advocates looking to support their initiatives. The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl was “Innovating for Girls’ Education,” a crosscutting issue that remains central to the work of all seven girl activists who spoke that day.

Moderated by WGG Girl Advocate Julia, the inspiring panel of girl activists began with the testimony of Malika, a fourteen-year-old from Burkina Faso who considers herself “a citizen of the world.” Malika’s passion for girls’ education inspired her to raise the funds to purchase 60 bikes for girls in her village so that they may have a safe way to travel to and from school and the often long distances to access food and water.

A strong passion for girls’ access to education and girls’ rights inspired seventeen-year-olds Nessrine and Sihem, a pair of leaders in Algeria to start an organization that promotes awareness about girls’ education and human rights and to raise funds for causes that include schooling and leadership skills as well as alternatives for early marriage. Nessrine and Sihem work directly with girls to assist them with their schoolwork and teach them about their fundamental human rights.

We heard from thirteen-year-old Sophie who spoke about her experiences teaching swimming lessons to girls in the Dominican Republic, a program she began with the Mariposa DR Foundation when she was just ten-years-old, based on her observations as a regular vacationer in the region. The Mariposa Foundation provides school sponsorships for girls, promotes girls’ health, job skills training and athletic participation. Sophie emphasized the critical importance for girls in the Dominican Republic to learn to swim, a skill that not only allows them to explore the beautiful region in which they live, but feel independent, safe, and empowered.

The next passionate girl leader to share her story was sixteen-year-old Claudia, an activist in her community in Mozambique who advocates for girls’ equality and empowerment. She leads a local girl’s group that addresses early marriage, rights violations, education and political participation and recently implemented a project on early marriage where girls speak in schools, communities, and with parents to change cultural norms.

Diana’s bold opening statement “I am undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic,” reflected the very brave and determined spirit of this sixteen-year-old whose experiences growing up as an undocumented Mexican immigrant in the United States and challenges with the system have motivated her to work for comprehensive, humane immigration reform. Diana is an active leader in the New York State Youth Leadership Conference (NYSYLC), the first undocumented, youth-led non-profit organization in the state of New York, and recognizes the critical importance of education for all girls, including those who are undocumented.

Fifteen-year-old Yeimy represented a local group of Mayan girls from Guatemala whose passion for girls’ education motivated them to organize petitions for Guatemalan leaders to allocate funds towards ensuring a girl’s right to attend school. She spoke passionately about a group that she is involved with called Paz Joven, a local support group where girls discuss a range of issues that are affecting them and learn the critical skills to escape poverty. This is a crucial piece to advancing the lives of girls, a cause clearly very close to Yeimy’s heart.

The end of the Speak Out marked the beginning of a revolution; a global movement to celebrate the creative leadership of girls in our communities. The seven testimonies we heard that day stirred an emotional and compassionate response from the audience, a sign that storytelling is a powerful tool for mobilizing change and touching the hearts of those who listen. As an active member of the WGG, Loretto was grateful to have the opportunity to participate in the planning of this event, as well as donate five hundred dollars from our Special Needs Fund, a contribution that went toward the travel costs of one of the girl activists from Guatemala. Inspired by the incredible group of leaders we heard from that day, Loretto at the UN remains committed to expanding the global dialogues so that they may highlight the fierce voices of girl leaders.

By: Molly Butler, Loretto at the UN intern

Click here to read original publication in Loretto Magazine.