Empowering girls as human rights defenders with the Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA)

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has devoted its 2018 Day of General Discussion (DGD) to the theme “Protecting and Empowering Children as Human Rights Defenders” on Friday, 28 September 2018 in Geneva.

As part of the Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA) activities, the International Secretariat of DCI (DCI-IS), together with country partners in Sierra Leone and Ghana, including DCI’s respective National Sections, contributed with two written submissions to the DGD (read DCI-Sierra Leone’s written submission here and the one from DCI-Ghana here). To this end, GAA country partners in Sierra Leone held a consultation with children on June 16 — the International Day of the African Child — to collect their experiences and opinions on what it means to be a child human rights defender (CHRD). The results of the consultations held around the world on the occasion of the DGD were published as a report by Child Rights Connect.

Activities and consultations held within the framework of the GAA show that the boys and girls consulted believe that children human rights defenders (CHRDs) play a key role in society. They have stated that CHRDs raise awareness on children’s rights in schools, at home and within their communities, including with out-of-school children and youth. They also lead in peer-to-peer education on human rights and participate in children’s advocacy campaign activities. According to the boys and girls consulted, these kinds of activities promote human rights principles and encourage children and communities to speak out.

Boys and girls taking part in GAA activities in Ghana and Sierra Leone also mentioned the importance of engaging girls as human rights defenders as a way to fight against gender-based discrimination. Integrating girls in human rights defence ensure more equality between boys and girls and empower girls to participate and contribute to matters that affect them directly. Girls who were victims of abuse or are at risk of abuse can share their stories and prevent other children from suffering the same.

It’s not that boys are better than us because you see more of them doing human rights work, as a matter of fact, they have more opportunities to engage and learn skills and gain field experience much more than us.” Testimony from Isata Kargbo a 17-year-old girl human rights defender part of the group Hope & Hope Girl, local organization supported by the GAA in Sierra Leone.

As part of the GAA girls’ participation and empowerment component, the DCI-IS worked alongside DCI-Sierra Leone to apply for a speaking slot during the Day of General Discussion.

As a result of this joint effort, Mellicentia Boateng, a 17-year-old girl from Sierra Leone was chosen as a child speaker for the dialogue on “Empowerment of girls rights defenders,” and travelled to Geneva to share her experience as a child human rights defender. Mellicentia is a passionate and dedicated girl who participated in several projects with NGOs like Action for Youth and Children’s Network (AYCN), the National Children’s Summit in Sierra Leone and became part of the Girls Advocacy Alliance network for girls in schools in 2017.

During the DGD dialogue, she expressed the challenges of being a child human rights defender in Sierra Leone as well as her perspective on what would enable more girls to become defenders of their rights and the rights of others. She raised several issues like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and degrading treatments at schools. She explained how she engages in her community and why it is so important for her. Sharing her experience, she reiterated to all that girls have not only the same rights as boys but also the same capacities.

We meet people, we tell them: girls have the right to speak up, girls have the right to do what boys do. Girls can do better. (…) we tell them: Your daughter can be more. You daughter can be more than this. You just have to give her the chance. (Mellicentia, 28.09.18 Geneva)

You can watch the first part of the webcast of the session of the DGD 2018 here and the second one here.

Discover Mellicentia’s biography here. 

© 2018 by May Tachapanich

The Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA) is a 5-year advocacy programme aimed at contributing to gender equality and equal rights and opportunities for girls and young women, with a focus on the elimination of gender-based violence and the economic empowerment of girls and young women. By economic empowerment, we mean making sure they have a good education, ensuring they find decent work and supporting young women to start and own their own businesses. When girls and young women are not empowered economically, they are economically excluded. By gender-based violence, we mean violence that is directed against a girl or woman because she is a girl or woman or violence that affects females disproportionately. 

The GAA is a collaboration of 3 organisations –Plan International, a global organization for children’s rights and equality for girls, Terre des Hommes Netherlands a charity working to end child exploitation and Defence for Children – ECPAT Netherlands, a child rights organisation. Each of these organisations has offices in many countries around the world. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has given these three organisations money for this programme and will also work closely together with them, using their contacts, networks and influence. 

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