Girl Advocates Make Their Voices Heard With UN Leaders

On the occasion of International Day of the Girl 2020, three passionate girl advocates dialogue with three high-level UN leaders on the topic of “centering girls’ voices in the international system”.

International Day of the Girl 2020

There has been momentum building in recent years, where children and young people, and especially girls and young women have been seizing increasingly more opportunities to make their voices heard. Generation Equality and the Beijing+25 process is an example of this, with hundreds of girls and young women worldwide sharing their views on the review process of the Beijing Platform for Action and the progress we have made towards achieving gender equality.

Girls no longer want to be simply listened to – they want to co-create a new reality. It is more than creating space. It’s about changing our ways of working to allow for girls and young women to exercise their right to participate in public affairs and take an active role in shaping our world.

How can we ensure that the international system is inclusive, fit for purpose and remains relevant for the generation, by putting girls’ voices and their rights at the centre of decision making processes?

This is the question we invited 6 briliant people to discuss on 8 October 2020. We welcomed three passionate girl advocates – Rea from Kosovo, Angelica from Australia, and Lubinda from Zambia – to share their perspectives on the issue of girls’ and young women’s participation in decision-making. We also had the honor to be joined by three dedicated senior UN leaders: Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Martin Chungong, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and Diene Keita, Deputy Executive Director of UNFPA.

A dialogue across the generations

In the form of an intergenerational dialogue, co-designed by the young advocates, the speakers discussed issues ranging from barriers to girls’ participation, to how to build young people’s skills and resources for participation, to how governments and parliaments can be more representative and inclusive.

The girls opened the event with their inspiring remarks. They emphasized that girls’ rights, including their right to participation, were systemically violated, and that although participation was a right, it is not yet a norm. They cited multiple barriers to girls’ participation in decision-making, including traditional gender norms, lack of information, lack of support, language barriers. They shared that often children feel intimidated by adults, who condescend to them, believing that they are incapable of participating meaningfully. Finally, they argued that in order for policies to truly respond to the needs of girls in all of their diversities, it is critical that an intersectional lens is taken.

Inclusive and representative governance

According to Secretary General Martin Chungong, it is critical that young people are able to engage in formal decision-making processes, including by running for office and serving as parliamentarians. However, Angelica shared that UN and other governance structures need a systemic rehaul when it comes to youth participation in order for that to happen. She stated that “We often hear from decision-makers that young people don’t care or don’t come to consultations. But we know that when we as youth leaders facilitate conversations, young people always step up to the mark. And so we must ask ‘why is there such disparity? Decision-makers need to consider how to make their decision processes more inclusive and engaging from the beginning.” She argued that it is important that a large number of young people must be engaged, not just a repeat few. She finally shared that political participation for young women in particular needs to free from violence and intimidation.


High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stressed that governance structures need to ensure that young people and young women are at the table. She denounced that this is not yet happening today; participatory governance structures are ad hoc, and that this is not yet in the culture of governance. She quoted a young woman who said that, “We don’t want you to simply invite us to sit at the table. We want to design the table.”

Addressing the multiple and intersecting factors

Not all girls face the same issues and some face additional, crosscutting or intersecting issues such as those based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and other factors. How can we ensure that all girls’ voices are heard and represented? The discussion recognised that diversity and intersectionality are key issues to take into account to ensure that no one is left behind when fostering inclusive and representative governance structures.

According to Lubinda we must tackle the barriers that girls from diverse backgrounds face to participating, which include lack of information, lack of support and language barriers. Secretary General Martin Chungong called on parliaments to invest in outreach in order to be inclusive, because inclusivity leads to legitimacy and to ownership, which in turn lead to better outcomes of parliamentary processes.

The UN must change its ways

Rea highlighted that the UN seems too far for many girls. They are afraid of trying to make their voice heard in UN processes because it seems too complex and convoluted. She stressed that it is important that the UN reach out to girls and young women not only on special days like International Day of the Girl, but as a regular practice. However, she emphasized that days like IDG are important for driving the agenda forward, and making girls’ voices more visible.


Lubinda and Deputy Executive Director Diene Keita both stated that it is critical that we move away from technical language, and speak a language that all people can understand, in order to make processes more inclusive. Girls should be given non-technical, child-friendly information about the UN in their own local languages. Angelica added that information about the UN and international processes should be included educational curricula, in order to reach out to the most disadvantaged girls.

You can watch the entire event here and read a full summary of the event here.