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Girls, claim your rights!

This is a guest post from Lil Shira, one of the girl delegates who attended the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in February, 2011. Lil Shira was part of a Plan led Girl Delegation which took part in high level panels, side events and caucuses. This post appears complete in its original format. You can read a post by Fabiola, another of the girl delegates from Cameroon, here.

Lil Shira in the community

My name is Lil Shira, a high school student and a Cameroonian.  I am the second child out of five children in my family, three girls and two boys, and we live in a rural area. Because I am a girl I was selected by my school authority to be part of the journalism club in the school. This paved my way into YETAM (Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media) project sponsored by Plan Finland since the Journalism club was chosen for this project.

Because I am a girl I had to use the skills I have acquired in YETAM on music, media and ICTs to indentify issues like the problem of early and forced marriage, high rate of school dropout and violence against the girl child. Because I am a girl, I had to mobilize other youth (girls and boys) victims, so as to speak out as a unique voice, to raise awareness to the general public using music, drawings, drama, poems, videos, computers and overhead projector as tools. This led to many local advocacy actions spearheaded by us.

I was also very happy to celebrate the 21st anniversary, in Yaoundé in Cameroon, of the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child within the framework of YETAM project. These created a big impact in my life, the lives of my friends, youth, school, family and my country. All these activities took me to a higher level because I was again selected, this time to be one of the girl delegates to represent Cameroon in the 55th session of the UN Commission on the Status of women (CSW) in New York City.

Lil Shira presenting at the CSW.

I was very happy, excited together with my friends and family members and I was planning and preparing on the role I was going to play while in New York. My expectation was to work with other youth from different region and country but did not really expect I was going to talk to Ministers from all the members’ state of the UN. I did my first presentation with the Canadian Minister on a panel about the importance of commemoration days and the importance of setting up an International day for the girls.  Another thing which made me feel so opportune was the panel with UN women Ministers in the UN building.

I was very impressed seeing ministers from over two hundred countries and above listening to me and in effect giving a positive response to the issues I presented. In fact their reaction made me feel at home and so happy. I was equally happy to listen to other girls raise issues like gender based violence and discrimination in their various countries and what they have been doing to combat it.

Coming in contact with girls from Sierra Leone, Finland, United States, Indonesia, Canada and others, not mention to share our ideas, was so wonderful and exciting.  This was a forum for me to dialogue with them to know more about them and some of the issues affecting them in their own country which was contrasting with mine. Though I was nervous during my first presentation, meeting new faces it all passes away like a breeze and I did not have any complex because everything was cute.

Life in the US to me was very enjoyable and meaningful, but I could not stop complaining of the cold and snow. In addition, I tried eating food not familiar to that of my home country. All these contributed greatly to the wonderful experiences I had on the weather condition and the food.  I have learned to adapt to situations wherever I find myself. I hope to continue sharing this experience so that others may learn from it.

This is the time for girls to take up the challenge. I know my rights and have claim them, and no one can take them from me because I am a girl.

Thanks to Plan International, Judith Nkie our Chaperone, Kate Ezzes and Lia de Pauw.

Girls, claim your rights!

Related posts and videos about YETAM and the CSW:

Girls voices in global forums

Girls in rural Cameroon talk about ICTs

55th CSW: Women, girls, education and technology

A catalyst for positive change

On the map: Ndop, Okola and Pitoa



Girls voices in global forums

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent last week at the 55th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. The organization where I work supported 12 girls from various countries to attend and speak at different panels and side events during the week.

Why is it important for girls’ voices to be heard at global events like the CSW? Why should they be allowed to sit at tables with adult decision makers? Is this a wise investment when we could have spent that money to bring an adult staff member instead? Well, from a strictly rights-based perspective, it’s because girls have a right to participate in decisions that impact on their own lives.

But there are so many other reasons that girls need to be present at these events. They bring perspective that is otherwise missing. Before women are women, they are girls. It’s well known and well documented that investing in girls’ education and other areas has impacts that go far beyond schools. At these big meetings, issues that impact girls and women are being addressed and discussed – so there needs to be spaces for girls and women who feel these issues directly to speak for themselves, especially girls and women who are typically left out of these processes. Girls bring a reality check. They offer ideas and solutions from their own contexts. They bring points home that can otherwise be missed. They are often amazing speakers and have incredible wisdom and insight to share. We can all learn from them. And bringing girls and their opinions and voices to a huge event like the CSW can really have a positive impact both on the event, the event participants, the decisions made there, and on the girls themselves, as they return home with a mandate to live their leadership in their own communities and countries.

Early in the week, I shared a panel with Fabiola, one of the girl delegates from Cameroon, and she truly stole the show. Here’s how:

Fabiola participates in the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project, and was selected by her peers to represent her group and Cameroon at the CSW. More information about Fabiola and Shira, the other girl delegate from Cameroon are in this post: Girls in rural Cameroon talk about ICTs. Shira also spoke at high level panels, as did the girls from Sierra Leone, Indonesia and Finland.

The girls also planned and managed their own side event where they talked about girls and new communications technologies.  In preparation for the event, they brought with them videos from their home countries, and Kirby, one of the girls from the US, edited them together into one piece. The video was shared at a few different events, and the girls were even asked to show it at the general assembly (at the last minute they weren’t allowed to for one reason or another). In any case, you can see it here:

On the last day that the girls were in New York, 3 of them sat on a panel in front of hundreds of high level decision-makers: UN officials, Ministers and government representatives. They talked about the challenges girls face in terms of accessing ICTs and raised the issue of violence against girls and how violence in schools impacts heavily on girls’ education.

My Cameroonian colleague, Judith, who works on the YETAM project with the girls, told me afterwards that she felt unbearably proud, seeing them there in front of the whole room, with everybody hanging on their every word. “I was floating,” she said. “As if my feet were not even touching the ground.” She was proud that Shira didn’t only present the issues that girls are facing in accessing ICTs or in terms of violence or early marriage, but she talked about what they are doing in the community and how they are working with ICTs and conducting advocacy with decision makers and traditional councils to resolve the issues, and what impacts they have already had in the community.

Josephine, one of the girls from Sierra Leone, said afterwards: “When I was there, speaking, I felt like I was on top of the world because people were listening to my voice.”

There needs to be more of this!

But if you are still not convinced, my fabulous colleague Keshet Bachan, coordinator of this year’s Because I am a Girl Report and the previous 3 reports, gives a convincing overview here about why girls and why now. Worth watching.


Girls in rural Cameroon talk about ICTs

The 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women is taking place this week in New York City, with the core theme of: “Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”

Some of the girls that we’re working with in our programs are participating, including Fabiola and Shira from Cameroon. I met them both last July when we worked together on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project. The YETAM coordinator in Cameroon, Judith Nkie, is also attending the CSW as the girls’ chaperone. She certainly also has a lot to contribute on girls, women and ICTs. Judith once said to me “This project is a catalyst in my body.” Judith is awesome.

Girls from the YETAM project worked to prepare the interviews, film and videos below. Each girl interviews another girl from the community about the role of ICTs in their lives. The videos are worth watching as the questions and the responses of the girls are very insightful.

The interviewee in the first video says ICTs help you find out what is happening around the world. She comments that she found out about what just happened in Egypt (the February revolution) because of ICTs. Some of the other things I found most interesting in the videos are:

  • The girls’ recognition of the importance of information for making good decisions
  • The technologies that girls have most access to (mobile phone!)
  • The first time the girls encountered a mobile phone (a few years ago, at a local call box for one, and via an uncle who brought one back from travels for the other)
  • Why it is hard for girls to use ICTs in the community (lack of ICT devices, cost, parents don’t allow girls to learn about ICTs, at school the computers are few – you will see at least 20 persons per computer – and half are broken, the boys are very powerful and they fight us to occupy the computers, girls’ illiteracy, girls don’t continue in school)
  • How often the girls use ICTs (mobiles are used every day, there is only one place to access Internet in the community)
  • What they like most about ICTs (ICTs help me to know what is happening in other countries, I came to know about what happened 2 days ago in Egypt via communication technologies, many youth have been able to be employed through their mobile phones)
  • What they like the least about mobile phones and Internet (scamming, its easy to tell lies by mobile)
  • How can ICTs be helpful to girls (in my community a girl was able to borrow a phone from a friend to report that she was to be married at the age of 12, and the marriage was stopped)
  • Can ICTs be used to hurt girls? (yes, the girls who can afford their own mobile phones are those who are wealthy, when the poor girls see the wealthy girls with their phones, they go into competition, they can go into prostitution to have money to get a phone; but on the other side, girls are also self-employed through the phones, so the mobile phone hurts but it also helps girls)
  • How the communities use the Internet to sell their products (most people in the community use ICTs to communicate to find buyers for their products)
  • What girls would like parents, community leaders and government to do to regarding ICTs (improve our access to ICTs, bring in programs and projects that can support youths to use ICTs and learn to use them better, educate parents to help them to see that girls also should be allowed to access this type of training and technology)
  • What hurts most about this ICT thing (when those who are really privileged and who can use the Internet don’t put their talents and privileges to good use, they go there to scam, to do robbery, not to do good; if these youth have the time and this privilege they should not do harm but they should do good.)
Kirby, one of the girls from the US, edited together portions of the videos above with video footage from the rest of the girls in the group, and they used the video to kick off their ‘Girl Led Side Event today. The turnout was great. They will continue throughout the rest of the week getting their ideas and messages across in different events and panels. You can follow their thoughts and impressions on the Plan Youth Tumblr or by following @plan_youth on Twitter. My colleague @KeshetBachan is also blogging from the CSW at the Girls Report blog.

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