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Amplifying girls’ and women’s voices in the global movement for gender equality

Amplifying girls’ and women’s voices in the global movement for gender equality




I moderated this panel at the European Development Days in 2018. It was organised by Plan International, UN Women and FRIDA. The synopsis on the EDD website is here, and is pasted in below. For the video of the event, see here.



'At the heart of SDGs is the drive to fulfil girls’ and women’s rights and achieve gender equality. However, the pace of progress has been slow with girls and women poorly represented and their voices ignored. This session explores how we can promote the participation and collective leadership of girls and women within the broader movement for gender equality. The scale of change needed will only be possible if all members of the movement work together – from grassroots to global, from youth to NGOs, governments and the private sector - but, how do we ensure that those who are most impacted by rights violations are the ones leading the movement?

Panel will include a projection of the latest trailer of WOMAN, a follow-up to the documentary HUMAN, by Yann Arthus Bertrand & Anastasia Mikova.

Key points

  • Lack of gender data for some Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) makes it difficult to monitor what is happening to women and girls.
  • Even when laws and policies to promote gender equality are in place, people’s mindsets have yet to change.
  • Half of young feminist groups are operating with a budget of less than US$ 5,000 and a quarter of less than EUR 500.
  • The bottom-up theory: Victims of inequality need to be trained to raise awareness and inspire others.


Thousands of interviews conducted for the film Woman indicate that giving access to education is the key to empowering women from a young age. Despite progress, with levels of primary education for girls beginning to approach those for boys, it should not be forgotten that terrorists see young girls in education as a prime target: Smart girls prevent them from filling empty voids in society with their hate.

There have been steps forward, but also some steps backward. The needle on the SDGs will not move without a deep commitment to dismantling patriarchal structures, to shifting norms. Stereotypes are more resilient than laws. Though the Nigerian supreme court struck down laws denying inheritance to girls, the practice continues in local communities.

The media has to follow education in the fight against stereotyping, shifting the mindset to match the laws in place. In Pakistan, tentative signs of this shift can be seen in discussions with soap opera directors and actors. The media also needs to be interested in girls before they become victims of sexual violence.

Movement-building is important because women need to speak for themselves. Women need platforms and it has to become normal that girls are speaking in the room. Putting the girls front and centre means building them up, paving the way for them to be heard and protecting those who dare speak truth to power. Local community watchdogs can put pressure on local authorities.

Young feminists need to be mentored at the grass-roots level. A community of girls in Lagos, aged between 10 and 16, were able to draft an action plan on sexual violence that led to the supervision of children in religious contexts by both men and women. When hundreds of young girls were able to tell explicit stories about safety in visiting toilet facilities to the entire city council of Kampala, beliefs and mindsets were shifted.

Cultural immovability is not a given; it is the lack of visibility that holds back change. The lived reality of the girl child and young women is overlooked. Also, the global legislative framework is gender-blind. Quiet diplomacy is needed, seeking change from within, not without. There is also a need to open doors to all voices, including to women who do not fully agree with this agenda for different reasons, so we can avoid the danger of talking in an echo-chamber.


A participant suggested that as we have been discussing the same problems for 40 years and nothing changes, we need to face the fact that African women are in socio-economic slavery, state this clearly and recognise that only local civil society, not international organisations, can change things.'





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