This Is What Life’s Like As A Young Advocate Fighting For Girls’ Rights13 October 2020
Amy, Lina and Nea are three Plan International young advocates taking part in this year’s European Week of Action for Girls (EWAG). One of the main reasons for them to become part of EWAG, is that they want to make sure that girls and young women are not left behind, and that their voices and priorities are heard, in light of the EU-Africa Partnership, on topics such as health, education, economic empowerment, decision-making and freedom from violence. A few days have passed since the International Day of the Girl (IDG) and they wanted to share with us some reflections on why they decided to join EWAG, what they believe should be the steps for EU decision-makers to take to bring about progress for girls worldwide and how they are experiencing online advocacy towards the EU so far.
Growing up, Nea soon realised she had a big privilege being a white girl from Finland: “I felt I wanted to do something to help people who don’t enjoy the same rights and privileges as I do.” she says. So she decided to join Plan International to support those people that might need her help. For Lina, despite growing in the Netherlands with a non-western background, the decision was quite similar. She knew she had the privilege to study and grow up in a safe environment and felt she needed to do something to give a voice to those people that do not have capacity or tools to speak out: Plan International was the perfect place to do so. As for Amy, “my main motivation for joining Plan International Ireland was the fact that the Youth Advisory Panels is a completely unique opportunity for youth to get involved in something good!” she says.
All three young advocates unanimously agree, the huge opportunity given by EWAG is unquestionable; “I admit I had high expectations that were definitely exceeded” says Nea. They had the chance to exchange with other young advocates from all over the world, with each their own unique backgrounds and experiences. Amy realized that before she was more focused on problems rather than on finding solutions. As Lina pointed out, EWAG also allowed them to develop a better understanding of the EU with its policies and processes, in particular, in relation to Africa.
The EWAG young advocates have developed multiple recommendations for the EU to take on board whilst further shaping the EU-Africa Partnership. All young advocates tend to agree that equal rights are key: “all girls no matter their background should have the same rights and access to education, health, safety and political participation” says Nea. Moreover, it is fundamental for girls to live and work in safe spaces, which accept diversity, and where nobody’s voice is left out. To create these spaces, we need to be open to the diverse ethnic backgrounds, genders, age, professions and socio-economic status that we see around us.
All girls no matter their background should have the same rights and access to education, health, safety and political participation
In their advocacy actions, Amy, Lina and Nea stress a lot the role of education as key to unlock girls’ power. They believe primary and secondary education to be the most paramount. Nevertheless, it is also important to encourage more women to get involved into tertiary education, making it more accessible. “Through education, you can become independent!” says Amy. Education allows girls to be empowered and leads them to economic freedom, which is key to prevent sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and the respect of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). However, according to Lina, education should be not only about educating the younger generation, but also, about educating parents, teachers and leaders.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Amy, Lina and Nea, together with the other EWAG young advocates, were challenged to further develop their online advocacy skills, which they found great! The challenges when dealing with decision-makers are always the same and, online, it is easy to feel excluded from the conversation. However, just like when advocating offline, it is important “to stand out and to support your debate with the right arguments” says Lina. Advocating online can really have a huge impact; the youth could participate in many activities without any restriction posed by travel, at any time, and with a much more flexible schedule: “it allowed us to use our voice as never before” they say. They had many more tools they could easily use to influence policy makers. “There are diverse and impactful templates or visuals you can find on social media. These are small things, but can allow you to raise awareness in a very powerful way” says Nea. However, they admit that working online also came with some difficulties: accessibility to the internet and infrastructures is not the same everywhere and this could become a big barrier to participation. Nevertheless, they found that this could be an opportunity to “stress to governments how important it is to improve internet connection, accessibility to technology and knowledge for girls” says Amy.
ABOUT THESE THREE YOUNG ADVOCATES
Amy, 20, Ireland
My name is Amy Keane and I am the representative from the Plan Ireland YAP. I come from a small village in the west of Ireland. I am 20 years old and I am a third year Politics and International Relations student at the University of Limerick. I have been involved with the Plan Ireland YAP for the past six months and I have thoroughly enjoyed my Plan journey so far! My hobbies include dance, reading and horse riding and I would describe myself as a friendly and outgoing and a real people person. I am very excited to be part of this years EWAG!
Lina, 23, The Netherlands
Lina is a 23-year old medical student and youth advocate from the Netherlands and part of Plan International’s ‘Girls Rights Watch’ group. Lina is interested in the active youth-involvement in decision-making among SRHR-related topics, like ending FGM and childhood marriages. She feels extremely fortunate to grow up in a country where endless of possibilities are available for individual growth. Her biggest goal is that it will possible for everyone worldwide to build up an independent healthy life with a job or study that they are feeling passionate about and to make their own choices in life, regardless of their ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation gender or status.
Nea, 20, Finland
Nea is a 20-years-old university student from Finland. Her major is religious and cultural studies and she’s hoping to pursue a career in teaching and/or in organisations. Nea wants to be able to make a change in people’s lives, and education is the number one key in that process. Since 2015 she’s been part of Plan Finland’s Youth Board and also completed one year as the president of the Youth Board. In 2017 Nea took part in Girl’s take over in Finland as the CEO of the Economical Associations. The experience really opened her eyes how unjust and incomplete Finland’s situation in equality of work life is. That was one of the biggest motivators to find her true calling in life.
Girl’s rights, education and gender roles in our society are themes that fascinate her. Her interests include travelling and learning new things. FUN FACT: Even though she’s Finnish, she can’t stand salty liquorice.
Education, Girls Get Equal, Youth empowerment, girls’ leadership