Don’t let our voices tremble as we recognise that we are capable, strong and free.Caro, youth activist, Mexico
When girls and adolescents are free to make choices about their own lives, their power is limitless and they can defend their rights.
While this is certainly true, in Latin America and the Caribbean, child, early and forced marriage and unions (CEFMU) are still a barrier to many girls and adolescents making decisions for themselves freely.
Over the past nine months, we have worked together on the Power to Girls campaign to call on governments, international agencies and civil society organisations to take concrete actions to address CEFMU.
Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage member organisations in Latin America and the Caribbean – alongside young people – spoke out and demanded actions to strengthen girls’ and adolescents’ rights. Some clear themes emerged through these campaigning efforts, including reflections and recommendations on how to ensure girls and adolescents can access their own power. Read on to see our shared reflections and recommendations around four key themes.
- Ensure all girls, boys and adolescents have access to comprehensive sexuality education
- Comprehensive sexuality education offers a tool for girls and adolescents to make informed decisions and establish healthy social and sexual relationships.
Comprehensive sexuality education helps build values like inclusion, equality, empathy, responsibility and reciprocity, and transform the gender-based violence and prejudices that limit girls’ and adolescents’ rights .Jessenia Pérez, Population Council, Guatemala
- Comprehensive sexuality education is a right that should be guaranteed within and beyond schools, to ensure all girls and adolescents can access it.
Many girls leave school when they enter a union and need comprehensive sexuality education to avoid early pregnancy, violence and sexually transmitted infections, and to decide if they really want to enter that union.Mabel Bianco, FEIM, Argentina
- Government and other programmes on comprehensive sexuality education should be offered in accessible language and formats, avoiding stigma and taboos.
We should take an intersectional perspective that takes into account the ages and different contexts in which children and adolescents live.Mariana Cruz, Fos Feminista/Amaze LAC
We need to understand girls’ and adolescents’ level of development and foster abilities like affectivity, the desire to create bonds and emotional managementÉrika Veloso, GENFAMI, Colombia
2. Protecting girls’ and adolescents’ right to decide
- The right to bodily autonomy is the right to make informed decisions over your body, life and future. When girls and adolescents exercise this right, they have the power to choose when and with whom to have relationships.
Women, girls and adolescents should be able to make their own decisions based on their feelings, needs, interests, benefits and, of course, their rights .Caro, youth activist, Mexico
- Issues like gender-based and sexual violence, adolescent pregnancy and the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health information and services are barriers to girls and adolescents exercising their autonomy.
The legislation says that all girls and adolescents have rights, but in practice they aren’t carried out because of prejudice, myths or taboos, and lack of information.Vanessa Blanco, Jóvenas Latidas, Venezuela
- Recognising bodily autonomy is not only about promoting laws; it’s also about developing and resourcing programmes from a gender and diversity perspective to end violence and guarantee that girls and adolescents can access appropriate information and services.
The first territory of conquest is the body. We must protect it .Laura Ortiz, SERNiña, Guatemala
3. Promoting girls’ and adolescents’ leadership in their communities
- When communities take girls’ and adolescents’ opinions into account, they can exercise their power to promote change.
Adolescents have the power to speak and know what they need. Let’s listen and create dialogues with them.Lizbeth Quezada, Balance, Mexico
- We should guarantee that girls and adolescents have safe spaces to express their needs and participate in decision-making in their communities.
If we work with communities, we’ll see great change, not only for me but for all women.Tania Meléndez, Las Niñas Lideran, Guatemala
- It’s important to work with girls and adolescents to develop tools that build their leadership skills and contribute to more and better life options for them.
They think we’re ‘just girls’, but in reality we want to foster our own leadership and do things for ourselves, because if we don’t do them, nobody willTania Meléndez, Las Niñas Lideran, Guatemala
4. Involving parents and teachers in education about girls’ and adolescents’ rights
- Parents and people who work in the education sector are responsible for ensuring girls and adolescents know their rights and exercise their power to achieve their dreams.
We have to work with girls and adolescents, but also with parents, because resistance to change suggests that something’s deeply rooted. We need to recognise what’s going on with adults and create spaces to talk and support them.Indira Rodríguez, Mano Vuelta, Mexico
- Institutions and organisations need to consider the local contexts and work from an intercultural perspective, committing to offering training for girls and adolescents on their rights, without prejudice or stereotyping.
Find out more about the Power to Girls campaign, the commitments made and reflections from adolescents, youth and Girls Not Brides member organisations. You can also see the #PoderParaNinasYAdolescentes and #PowerToGirls hashtags on Twitter and Facebook.
For more stories from across the global Partnership head to our articles page.
In the time it has taken to read this article 53 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds