Monrovia / New York, 7-17 July 2020:
Miatta (16) from Liberia, joins the United Nations in talks about sustainable development in her country
The United Nation’s High-level Political Forum on sustainable development (HLPF) is the central global platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Every year, the United Nations Member States gather in New York to discuss the progress of the SDGs and a number of countries report on their progress through a Voluntary National Review (VNR). The VNRs are discussed at the HLPF, due to the COVID pandemic this year the meetings took place entirely online from July 7-17 making the review even more challenging. Liberia is reporting for the first time on its compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals yet to be achieved by 2030 in the country despite the impact of COVID-19. Miatta (16) from Liberia is also participating, she is one of the six young girl human rights defenders of the Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA) who are part of the delegation engaging in the various online sessions to champion girls’ rights. During the HLPF, on behalf of Liberia’s youth who wrote their own VNR report, she calls on the state of Liberia to deliver on its commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Girl Human Rights Defenders
In November 2019, Miatta participated as a young girl rights defender in a training conducted by the Girls Advocacy Alliance on the Sustainable Development Goals and the VNR process. Together with other youth in Liberia, she spoke to members of the government and representatives of the United Nations, including UNICEF and UNFPA. Miatta: “As Liberia is reporting to the HLPF this year, it is important that young people in Liberia are aware of the VNR process. The training gave us the opportunity to make our voices heard and influence the recommendations on Liberia’s VNR process.” The training inspired Miatta and other young child human rights defenders in Liberia to write their own youth-led VNR report for the first time. Together with 20 young people, she organized focus group discussions on the VNR and planned a national kick-off meeting for the youth-led report jointly with the government of Liberia. Even if this was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Miatta was determined that she could make a difference for the lives of children and youth by representing them during this international fora.
Holding Governments Accountable
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Miatta remains committed to holding her government accountable for the state’s promises to girls and young women under the Sustainable Development Goals. Mainly when it comes to the SDGs on quality education, gender equality, reducing inequalities and achieving peace, delivering justice, and strong public services. The youth-led report shows that sexual violence and gender-based violence against girls is a major problem in Liberia. Most victims do not have access to justice, they are often stigmatized and endure long term trauma. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of cases of sexual violence has increased even more. School closings put girls at high risk of gender and sexual violence at home and in their communities with more cases of unintended pregnancy, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and child marriage.
Miatta, 16-year-old, Liberia
“When girls are raped they do not have a safe space to turn to. Instead, they are forced to remain in the same community as the alleged perpetrators. The lack of safe-homes, sexual and gender-based violence Fast-Track Courts, as well as the lack of trained nurse at sexual and gender-based violence units in hospitals are some of the key factors that deny girls from accessing justice. This is coupled with the limited number of female police officers and female public defendants to hear the cases of rape victims. Child marriages and female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C) are also a major problem. ”
Youth-led Report on Sustainable Development Goals in Liberia
The HLPF is the perfect opportunity for young people like Miatta to hold the Liberian government responsible for these abuses and to indicate what is needed to improve the position of girls and young women. Based on the youth-led VNR report, Miatta calls on Liberia to ensure that:
- children, especially girls, have access to safe spaces to make their voices heard on issues that concern them;
- all children have access to affordable quality education;
- girls and young women have access to equal rights and opportunities without discrimination based on sex, age, and gender;
- children, girls, and young women have access to justice including effective remedies;
- children, girls, and young women have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education;
- there is a zero-tolerance policy on sexual and gender-based violence at work;
- the age of consent for marriage in the customary law is harmonized with the statutory law. So that the age of consent remains at 18;
- Stop the removal of girls from formal schools to attend the traditional Sande / Bush school that makes them undergo female genital mutilation/cutting.
Youth participation during HLPF
Aside from calling her state accountable she also met with influential people at the UN who are concerned with violations of the rights of children and young people to see how they can help improve the situation of girls and young women in Liberia. The UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake took time to engage with Miatta and the Girls Advocacy Alliance Delegation to the HLPF to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of girls in Liberia, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kenya and Uganda and their dreams for building a post-COVID world more equal. In another session with the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, Miatta inquired about what the UN can do to ensure that victims of sexual violence in Liberia have access to justice. In addition, she joined the VNR LAB “Developing a child-sensitive and child-inclusive SDG voluntary national review” organized by UNICEF and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children Najat Maalla M’Jid as a child expert. During the event, Miatta emphasized the need to meaningfully involve children and youth in the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals. She called on the UN and its Member States to ensure that young people and children are meaningfully engaged in the VNR process at national, regional, and international levels.
Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children
“For me, the best experts are children themselves. It is important that children are seen as active actors and not only as recipients of services. They play a major role in promoting, raising awareness, leading initiatives, advocating, mobilizing, monitoring and calling for accountability to keep our promises and to make States more accountable to keep their promises. Children should be seen as an important partner and be able to participate at all times. This is the major challenge for the UN and for Member States.”
Furthermore, Najat advocated for the UN and its Member States to genuinely listen to children and ensure youth participation in an ethical, meaningful, and inclusive manner. It is about the well-being of children and putting this at the center of planning and budget. Governments have strong political obligations, but the big problem is financing. It is important to see youth participation as an investment, not just as an expense. According to Najat, this is important not only for the future generation but for the whole of society. Miatta agreed with this and is proud that she and the five other young girls’ rights defenders were able to make her voice heard during the HLPF and in this way have been able to draw attention to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in their countries.
Girls Advocacy Alliance
Miatta is affiliated to Defence for Children International Liberia (DCI-Liberia) and has followed the HLPF sessions from the Monrovia office to ensure she had access to the internet. Miatta is part of the Girls Advocacy Alliance program, a joint collaboration of Plan International Netherlands, Defence for Children – ECPAT, Terre des Hommes and in strategic partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The aim of this alliance is to combat violence against girls and young women and to lobby for the increase of their economic and political participation. One of the components of the GAA is the training and coaching of youth groups as ad in Sierra Leone, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Liberia and India.