This year, we have all faced the effects of multiple, interconnecting global crises: climate change, conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic and rising costs. As governments cut back and families are pushed to the brink, it is girls – and particularly adolescents – who bear the most severe consequences. In crisis situations, girls are more likely to leave education and marry or enter a union. Already, 12 million girls marry every year; now 10 million more are expected to marry by 2030 due to the pandemic alone  – and we have yet to calculate the effects of these other escalating crises.
Moments like International Day of the Girl (IDG, 11 October) and 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (25 November to 10 December) offer a framework around which to amplify girls’ voices, create spaces for them to speak up, share experiences and discuss how these issues show up and can be addressed in their own lives. Most importantly, it is a time for us to listen and act on girls’ priorities.
Below, we share our top three lessons from this year, showcasing some of the work Girls Not Brides member organisations have been doing to bring girls into the conversation and ensure they have the tools they need to speak for themselves and inspire change. We also highlight ongoing activities and share three actions you can take to ensure every day is the day of the girl.
1. Young people are a powerful force for change – we need to involve them at every level
We often talk about girls and adolescents being the experts – they know their experiences and solutions best. We need to involve them in the discussions and work together to come up with solutions.
Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) is a youth- and women-led organisation which offers girls, adolescents and young women opportunities to thrive as leaders and decision-makers in their own communities. Their flagship Adolescent Girls Program (AGP) focuses on holistic education and economic empowerment activities, delivered through 25 partner schools in Kampala and five in Eastern Uganda’s Bukedea District.
This IDG, they organised a series of activities that brought together over 400 primary school girls to dance, celebrate being a girl and inspire one another. One AGP participant-turned mentor and guest of honour – Barbara – spoke to the group, encouraging them to believe in themselves, use the knowledge they’ve gained, and stay connected and true to who they are and dream to become.
Beyond creating space for girls to take centre stage, Girl Up Initiative Uganda also ensured their priorities were heard by those with decision-making power. By bringing local police and government officials directly together with girls who are able and willing to express themselves on their own terms, they gained renewed commitments to girls’ education and well-being – an important step in driving change together.
Over the same period, Girl Up Initiative Uganda also brought youth activists into other advocacy spaces so they could speak directly with diverse audiences. Youth and disability rights activist, Clare Akmu, was a panellist at the Amplify Girls “Girls’ agency in their own words” virtual event, where she shared her journey on self-love and personal empowerment, and stressed the importance of the intersectional feminist movement and the need for inclusive approaches. Programme Officer, Joan, and girls’ rights advocate, Pauline, also spoke on national television about facilitating more spaces for girls and young women to participate in decision-making processes and co-designing policies with girls, for girls. An inspiring approach we can all learn from.
Mutelle des Femmes Paysannes pour le Développement et la Sante en Afrique (MFPDSA) is a women's rights organisation based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like Girl Up Initiative Uganda, they also recognise the importance of involving girls in decision-making, ensuring they know their rights and have the tools – like legal support – to access them.
This IDG, MFPDSA organised a girls’ march, during which 50 girls chanted: “We girls want our rights to be respected!”. This campaign focused on Indigenous girls from Luberizi, bringing attention to how they have been marginalised and put at risk of child marriage, and creating space for them to show their knowledge and determination to claim their rights, together.
2. Girls and adolescents need space to come together and inspire each other – and us!
Involving girls in the decision-making process is essential, but so is creating safe spaces for them to share their experiences, ideas and solutions, which can then be amplified for wider audiences. Girls Not Brides member organisations use virtual, physical and blended spaces to facilitate this process – below are some examples from IDG.
This year, Rhealyz Global Empowerment Initiative (Rhealiyz Africa) – an organisation based in Nigeria – created a physical space for secondary school girls to discuss the challenges they face, and the potential solutions. The “Empower girls to lead: Their rights! Their future!” encounter was livestreamed to broad audiences, and participants will be creating their own podcast to continue the discussions – watch this space!
Mujeres en Desarollo Dominicana (MUDE), based in the Dominican Republic, facilitated interactive face-to-face workshops with 75 girls in the provinces of Santiago Rodríguez and Dajabón. These spaces were designed to support girls and adolescents to make assertive decisions and take control of their future. The young participants committed to becoming leaders in their communities, recognising this moment with an "initiation" mural made with their handprints.
Other member organisations, like Restless Development India, VOW for Girls and CAMFED used digital campaigns to shine a light on inspiring girl and women leaders like Madhu, Edith and Vayant. They focused on those who have advocated for their rights in the face of resistance from authority figures, the need to expand girls’ opportunities, and the importance of education in ensuring girls and adolescents can step into their power.
Glasswing in El Salvador and Tostan in Senegal used a blended approach. They created physical spaces for girls, adolescents and young women to build their knowledge and skills, so they can express themselves freely and with confidence. They then shared highlights from these activities with their audiences over social media.
3. Education and sexual and reproductive health and rights are at the top of the agenda
Access to education and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are fundamental for girls to develop the knowledge and skills they need to make informed decisions, including around marriage and family planning. A girl’s access to these basic rights is often determined by gendered social norms and taboos around their sexuality and role in society, so it is important to engage girls and community members in the conversation – something the Centre against Gender-Based Violence, Noyau-Resolution and Solidarité des Femmes Burundaises pour le Bien être Social et le Progès au Burundi (SFBSP-Burundi) focused on this IDG.
The Centre against Gender-based Violence facilitated debates with some of the people determining whether girls can stay in school, and what kind of education they will get there: teachers. They raised the issue of sexual abuse within schools, training primary school teachers with preventative measures to share with their students.
“The teachers admitted that, if we do not start to talk to children about sexual abuse while they are still young, we will end up regretting in the future.”Participant in The Centre against Gender-Based Violence workshop
Noyau-Resolution hosted a conference, where they put girls’ participation front and centre. Interventions covered the history of the landmark UN Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace and Security, the challenges girls face, girls’ empowerment and participation in peace research, and security services.
SFBSP-Burundi facilitated focus groups which introduced the use of contraceptive methods into the discussion, as a way to reduce adolescent pregnancies and prevent child marriage. Girls in the focus groups discussed the potential causes of child marriage alongside their experiences of SRHR, helping to break down taboos and build a healthy support system.
Every day should be the day of the girl. This is why we’re highlighting events that continue to create spaces for girls to be at the forefront of change.
Inspired by IDG, Pratigya – a youth-led organisation working in Jharkhand, India – has started a football tournament for 480 mothers. The tournament offers a vehicle to enhance capacity and knowledge and ensure that young women and mothers know their rights and can take on more leadership within their families and communities. At Girls Not Brides, we have emphasised the effectiveness of sports as a vehicle to transform gender norms and end child marriage in India. The tournament kicked off on 4 November 2022 and will continue into 2023.
What you can do so that every day is the day of the girl
We hope you’re feeling inspired by our roundup! Now, you don’t have to wait until next year to take action – we want every day to be full of opportunities for girls to thrive.
Mouvement Alerte, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, used IDG to encourage government officials to take action. They wrote advocacy letters calling on multiple stakeholders to invest in girls’ education, health and sexual and reproductive rights, to ensure they have more opportunities when IDG comes round again next year.
Now you can join us in advocating and facilitating girls’ voices, rights and agency.
- Write to your government. Use our template letter to find out how they’re going to implement their international commitments. Find out more in our blog.
- Donate to a member organisation. Many Girls Not Brides member organisations implement grassroots strategies and initiatives which work with girls and their communities to expand their rights and agency.
- Create safe spaces for girls and adolescents to share experiences and find joint solutions. You could share these on your own channels.
In the time it has taken to read this article 98 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