Our Youth Ambassadors in Belgium recently took part in the European Week of Action for Girls (EWAG), an annual event organized by a coalition of NGOs in Brussels to mark the International Day of the Girl on 11 October.
For the last 10 years, the end goal of EWAG has been to bring the voices of girls and young women to the forefront of decision-making in Europe. This year’s edition focused on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting girls’ rights. Through a series of online activities – an exchange with policy-makers from EU and AU, a panel discussion with EU Member States, an event with Netflix and European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová, and a Twitter Space event– EWAG Young Advocates had the opportunity to directly discuss with key decision-makers how the issues girls face should be addressed in the EU-AU Partnership and in the agenda of the AU-EU Summit, which is expected to take place in February 2022.
This year’s EWAG main team, Girls Unite (#GirlsUnite), presented 4 thematic pillars: violence and harmful practices, health and sexual and reproductive rights, education and economic empowerment, and girls’ participation and political empowerment. Our Youth Ambassadors Ana, Annelies, Laura, and Delphine had the opportunity to choose one or more topics, based on their area of expertise and interest, and built around powerful messages and key recommendations to make sure girls’ voices and needs will be at the heart of the Partnership between the two continents. Here are some insights from their exchange of views with policy-makers:
Delphine, 34, about girls’ health and sexual and reproductive rights:
‘Access to health care services is a fundamental human right, yet girls continue to be disproportionately affected by specific diseases more than men. Moreover, sexual and reproductive health rights are still taboo and the lack of basic products contributes to about 20% of girls’ absenteeism in schools affecting their education, health care, and overall self-esteem.’
Ana, 27, on education and economic empowerment:
‘Not only is the right to education and work a core basic human right but achieving full equality mainly benefits the whole economy and society in many different ways. Women’s participation in the labor market through access to (decent) work increases productivity, economic diversification, and income equality, amongst others.’
Laura, 32, on education and economic empowerment:
‘Covid has had a massive negative impact on girls’ access to education and on economic empowerment. At its peak, there were an estimated 250 million children from sub-Saharan Africa out of school due to closures. The Lost Potential Tracker shows that Covid alone is responsible for over 11.4 million children out of the 70 million failing to acquire basic literacy skills by their 10th birthday this year.’
Annelies, 26, about girls’ participation and political empowerment:
“In order to ensure that the voices of women and young girls are heard, we need them to become part of the decision-making process, increase their political presence, and therefore, we need to understand the experiences of young girls and women to create policies that address their needs.”
Annelies on violence and harmful practices:
‘Every girl has the right to live a life free from any form of violence and harm to growing up in a safe, peaceful, and enabling environment. But in many parts of the world, girls and young women still cannot exercise their rights. 4 in 10 women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa are married before the age of 18 and it is estimated that at least 200 million women from 31 countries are living with the consequences of FGM.’