Sep 15, 2022 | Musu Kargbo-Reffell

She Speaks Boldly: Girls’ and Young Women’s Activism, a New Norm

Musu Kargbo-Reffell, Communications Consultant at Terre des Hommes International Federation, explores challenges faced by young women and girl activists and how the sector can support them. TDHIF is part of a community of 28 leading international organisations who have made the FAIR SHARE Commitment.

It’s rather ironic that there is an underrepresentation of women in leadership roles in the social impact sector, given its tireless work towards a fairer society. So when the latest FAIR SHARE Monitor ranked our International Secretariat first – with 100% female leadership and staff in our office – the recognition was humbling, to say the least.

The initiative is an important tool and step towards an equal world for girls and young women, and at Terre des Hommes, we strive to increase the acceptance of positive social gender norms.

We’ve all witnessed a welcome rise in women and girl-led activism challenging gender inequality, exclusion and injustice around the world. The likes of Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg have been powerful voices and advocates for their peers on a global scale.

“Children and young people want their voices heard on decisions affecting their lives – and this is their right.”

And their messages are clear: they care about their future and are fed up with being ignored. Children and young people want their voices heard on decisions affecting their lives – and this is their right.

Our work is guided by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; it states that all children, everywhere in the world, have the same rights. Yet a large proportion of girls, particularly in the Global South, are disproportionately disadvantaged and discriminated against.

For example, child marriages, gender-based violence, child trafficking and child labour all cause girls to drop out of secondary and vocational education, resulting in fewer opportunities to earn a sustainable income in the future.

And without an income and (financial) independence, they are more vulnerable to exploitation and violence.

“Given the opportunity to lead, young advocates have the capacity and drive to take charge of the growth of their societies.”

One way to flip these narratives is lobbying with the very people affected by these realities: girls and young women. Given the opportunity to lead the way through activism, these young advocates have the capacity and drive to tackle a range of issues affecting their lives and take charge of the growth of their societies.

But unfortunately, in reality, they continue to be blocked by the perpetuation of negative social norms.

“When we still have some households run under the ideology that makes career choices for girls without their say, if we still have some archaic cultural and religious practices that devalue girls or young women and marry her off before her 18th birthday, then our activism efforts are being thrown down the drain,” says Fancy, a Youth Advocate from Uganda at the Human Rights Council 2022.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, girls and young women spent three times as many hours on unpaid domestic and care work as men.

“Girls and young women undertake more than 75% of care work in the world.”

During the pandemic, the time spent on care work has increased for both. But it remains far greater for girls and young women, who undertake more than 75% of care work in the world.

“It’s hard enough caring for a family when you have no running water or electricity and you don’t have access to medicine or social care in any form,” says Sorea, another Youth Advocate from Uganda at the Human Rights Council 2022.

Another effective way to help shift these negative social norms is through collaborative work. Our International Secretariat office provides support to nine member organisations running projects around the world to protect the rights of children. Together we ensure that their rights are put into practice to protect children from harm and to influence agendas that affect children and young people.

We also support children and girls to use their voices to call on states to fulfil their rights. An example of this is the She Leads campaign, led by Terre des Hommes Netherlands. It brings together child rights organisations and feminist/women’s rights organisations with groups led by girls and young women in Africa and the Middle East.

These joint efforts aim to increase the sustained influence of girls and young women on decision-making and the transformation of gender norms in formal and informal institutions.

“We can’t strive for gender equality while continuing to exclude girls from decision-making.”

Thankfully young activists like Fancy and Sorea are keen to speak boldly to the very people in charge of changing their societies. They want world leaders to uphold their rights, prioritise their needs and include them in the decision-making process. “We can’t strive for gender equality while continuing to exclude girls from decision-making,” says Fancy.

Child participation in activism has become the “new normal” and young people are creating positive changes and rejecting discriminatory norms. Their right to be heard is just one of 42 rights that children are entitled to and are fighting for.

For us at Terre des Hommes, tackling gender equality is vital so that all children have an equal chance at life, development and survival. These efforts will also lay the foundation for a world where women will have an equal chance at fulfilling leadership roles – in any sector they may choose.

You can learn more about She Leads at the UN Human Rights Council 2022 here.

Terre des Hommes is a Committed Organisation

28 international social impact organisations like CARE International, Oxfam International and Amref Health Africa have made the FAIR SHARE Commitment. In doing so, they pledge to participate in the annual FAIR SHARE Monitor and achieve gender equity in their leadership by 2030.

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