Youth-focused reflections on the rights of girls and adolescents during COVID-19
In these times of COVID-19 lockdown, freedom seems to be the right we most desire. This reminds me how important it is to guarantee girls’, adolescents’ and young women’s right to full, autonomous and informed development.
Today more than ever, we need to focus in on girls, adolescents and young women, as this shifting situation is impacting on their access to fundamental rights like education, health and a life free from violence.
States and society should commit to addressing child, early and forced marriages and unions (CEFMU), and to taking the practice into account in all initiatives implemented to control the pandemic. They should do this while remembering that girls’ and adolescents’ rights are interdependent.
At any rate, this compulsory pause on many of our activities is freeing up plenty of time for self-reflection.
With this in mind, I would like to tell you all a little bit of my own story.
I was born in rural Honduras, where there are few educational opportunities and a lot of young people hope to move away.
I’m part of a small, privileged group from my town that has access to a university education, which has allowed me to work in the defence and promotion of human rights for the last few years.
Today, I think of the girls and adolescents who have limited life projects. The idea of romantic love and widespread violence trap them in child, early and forced marriages and unions as their only life choice.
This is an area in which education is vital for girls and adolescents to be able to achieve our dreams, inspire each other and know that we aren’t alone and that we can actually accomplish whatever we set out to do, beyond being partners and mothers.
So, today more than ever, the right to education should be guaranteed; and not only the right to academic knowledge, but also to a secular and scientific education around sexual and reproductive health. This is why it’s important to call on States to guarantee education based in inclusion and empathy.
Speaking from the combined experiences of communities in Honduras, it is vital to remember that – to address problems like CEFMU that are rooted in unequal power relationships and which affect girls, adolescents, and young women the most – we can:
- Promote awareness rather than information based on prohibition and punishment, as emphasised by the law.
- Foster the power and will of girls, adolescents and young women. Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) promoted by the United Nations –specifically SDG 5.3 – includes “[eliminating] all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations” as a key action for achieving gender equality. It is therefore vital that adolescents and young women are included in the discussions happening in decision-making spaces, and that they are thought of as allies in reducing these inequalities.
These unusual times should be transformed into spaces to lay the foundations of State commitments to upholding the rights of girls, adolescents, young women and women.
To guarantee our rights is to promote the development agenda, and also the historic commitment to reducing the inequalities which the pandemic has intensified.
We can put an end to CEFMU through education, sisterhood and discussions between diverse actors.