Here come the GIRLS! That was the message we sent loud and clear in Brussels last month, as we celebrated the European Week of Action for Girls 2015 with our civil society partners, UN agencies and EU institutions.
Held under the theme, “Goals for Girls Post-2015: Win, lose or draw?” the week-long event aimed to ensure that girls’ empowerment is promoted and their rights are protected and fulfilled in the EU’s external action, through adequate policies, funding and programs.
Our #GirlsVoices takeover of EuropeAid social media accounts was a first ever for the European Commission – five girls from five developing countries took control of the accounts to publish their own stories, ideas and opinions on the issues which matter to them, from education to economic empowerment and protection from violence.
The girls aimed to demonstrate the value and importance of young people’s participation in issues which affect them. And they certainly succeeded – reaching an audience of over two million on Twitter and Facebook alone, their messages were shared far and wide. It was a great example of the power of youth advocacy, and I’d encourage you to look at the Storify highlights of the day.
Our Girls’ Rights Gazette, which makes girls’ rights front page news, counted articles from big names including Plan International’s new CEO, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, who recently join us from the United Nations, as well as a puzzle page to test your knowledge of the newly adopted Global Goals.
We were delighted with the success of the European Week of Action for Girls, which received the patronage of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the EU and the European Parliament, as well as the official support of the United Nations.
With the support of our partners, in just five years we’ve managed to transform the Week from an NGO-initiative to a recognised and respected fixture in the Brussels calendar. We aim to take it from strength to strength in the years to come, in support of a broader global transformative movement for girls.
The power of girls
The European Week of Action for Girls 2015 was a moment to recognise and celebrate the power girls have to change the world around them.
The Week of Action was a moment to recognise and celebrate the power girls have to change the world around them. And there was certainly a lot to celebrate, not least the historic adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a collective agreement which represents the most ambitious effort yet to reduce poverty, tackle inequality and injustice, and protect the planet.
Hot on the heels of the SDGs, the EU adopted its Gender Action Plan 2016-2020 which will guide the work of the whole EU in this area for the coming five years. The Plan reconfirms the EU’s commitment to putting gender equality and girls’ and women’s rights and empowerment at the heart of development cooperation and humanitarian assistance.
Action on the ground
Both the SDGs and the Gender Action Plan are part of a global recognition of the plight and power of girls. It seems the world has finally woken up to the girl child. But now, our attention must turn to implementation of these ambitious agendas. As Linda McAvan, Chair of the European Parliament’s Development Committee put it when I interviewed her recently, “How will a girl or a woman in Mali, in Kenya, in the DRC know that something has changed? How will their life improve?”
Ambitious words mean little if they are not backed up by ambitious actions. The EU must now turn its attention to ensuring the goals and targets are translated into concrete improvements in the lives of girls and women the world over. Gender equality must not be a tick-box exercise – it must be integral to the entire work of the EU.
Involving children and youth
We will work hand-in-hand with the EU institutions to achieve this. And, importantly, we will work to make sure that girls themselves have a say – children and young people must be included in both designing the implementation plans and in ensuring that implementation is monitored effectively. Children have a right to be involved, but they face multiple exclusions which act as barriers to their effective participation.
Our #GirlsVoices takeover proved it is possible to feed young people’s views into the EU machinery. And the success proved that people want to hear what they have to say. We must now continue to help them raise their voice. This time next year let’s make sure we can say, "The girls are HERE!" Watch this space…