For the Girls Speak Out on October 11th, six girl activists from around the world, ages thirteen to seventeen, shared their inspirational stories and projects. I had the unique opportunity to hear these stories first hand as a representative of Girls Learn International and Girl Advocate for the Working Group on Girls. In fact, I helped to moderate the discussion for the Girls Speak Out. Here are my thoughts about that powerful day, IDG2013:
Eighth-grader Sophie talked about teaching swimming lessons for three years with the Mariposa Foundation on the Northern Coast of the Dominican Republic. Giving girls in this coastal community the opportunity to swim allowed them to get jobs, save lives, and change their social status. Seventeen-year old Diana talked about immigrating to the United States at a young age with her family, crossing a desert for three days with little food or water. Her personal triumph and activism in the New York State Youth Leadership Council shone a light on the deeply unfair immigrants policies. As she said herself, with a power that was startling and amazing, “I am undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic”.
Fourteen-year-old Malika from Burkina Faso shared how she raised thousands of dollars to buy bikes that help girls safely travel to and from school in her community. Yeimy from Guatemala talked about her grassroots activism within her community – working to bring increased government attention and aid to girls’ education and teenage pregnancy. Claudia from Mozambique spoke about the awareness she raised in her community about human rights and girls’ education. Nesserine and Sihem from Algeria talked about the organization they founded to help more girls go to school within their community.
As more and more girls spoke, more and more respondents (Ambassadors, Executive Directors, and High-Level UN officials) became speechless in the wake of such powerful and personal testimonies. I had heard all their stories before in rehearsal, but there was something different in the way the girls were speaking on that day. There was more urgency in their voices, more insistence.
I hear UN officials say at every event that they know investing in girls is important. That they know it changes the world. That they, and their respective governments or organizations, are working to help girls. As great as these public speeches are, girls worldwide get a pitiful amount of international aid: 1%. 1% of all international aid.
The discrepancy between words and actions deny girls worldwide their human rights.
But the girl activists at the Girls Speak Out wanted action. They had already worked within their communities to help empower and educate girls. As they spoke about their own issues, programs, organizations, and activism, it became clear that it is girls who are the experts on girls’ rights. The Girls Speak Out showed that girls are the solution. Girls have the unique perspective of actually being girls. They need to be part of the conversation.
On this International Day of the Girl, they were.