Plan International is committed to supporting the development of child and youth groups to enable them to be more effective, inclusive and democratic in securing children's rights.
Duty bearers such as parents, community leaders, school management or public officials who make critical decisions on children's behalf often do not hear children's voices. Children and young people carry little clout in adult decision-making processes and their issues are often seen as unimportant. This severely limits children's opportunities to be active agents of their own development and to have a genuine say in how their lives are run.
We work with girls and boys to help them be more aware of their rights and entitlements. We help them learn how best to organise themselves, how to use their collective strength to drive change, how to network with others and how best to influence duty-bearers and those in power. We help them engage with decision-makers and to participate in the spaces where decisions are made. We also partner with adult civil society organisations and their networks to generate more space for children so their voices can he heard.
We also strengthen the organisations' leadership, networking and influencing skills which helps them access, analyse and use information relating to children's rights. Our work includes increasing adults' awareness and capacity to support child and youth collective action and to facilitate links between adult and child and youth-led organisations and groups.
Case study: Sica Sica leads the way for Bolivian youth
Originally a conservative, indigenous community, Sica Sica in the La Paz Department of western Bolivia has become one of the most advanced rural municipalities in the country in terms of youth participation in public policy formulation and decision-making.
According to girls, boys and municipal representatives, this is due to the activities of the Girl Power Programme implemented in partnership between Plan International and Defence for Children International-Bolivia.
At the start of the programme, youth in Sica Sica were generally perceived as a problematic group in society, largely incapable of achieving anything on their own. The prevailing strong patriarchal social values ensured that girls were seen as second class citizens with a limited role to play in society.
In the last few years the Girl Power Programme has worked hard to empower and stimulate young people to organise themselves in youth organisations, with the goal of actively involving young Bolivians, particularly girls and young women, in community and public decision-making processes.
Through training, workshops and lobbying activities, we have directly supported Sica Sica youth to establish a Secondary Students Federation (SSF) and COMONNA (Municipal Coordination of Girls, Boys and Adolescents Organisations).
We want to be the youth explosion that gives life to a new country
Youth organisations like these work particularly well for young people – not least because they are endorsed by new Bolivian legislation. Through these groups young people can interact and work together on an equal and secure level with school or municipal authorities and voice their opinions.
During 2014 and 2015, girls and boys used these organisations as places to talk about their needs, difficulties and strengths, and develop solutions to the problems they face.
A combination of the support provided by new legislation that encourages women’s political participation and Girl Power Programme awareness-raising activities has resulted in more gender equality in the SSF and COMONNA. These groups have pledged that girls or young women should represent 50% of the positions on the boards of student councils and youth organisations.
In Sica Sica the president of the COMONNA is a 14-year-old girl who is also president of her class, vice-president of her school’s student council and president of a brigade called ‘Big Bang’ – a name chosen, because, as she puts it:
“We want to be the youth explosion that gives life to a new country; we want to train new leaders who fight against violence and make their rights known to all their fellow human beings.”
The Girl Power Programme operates in 14 municipalities in Bolivia and youth organisations and student councils have successfully been established in all of them.