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Agents for change: Girls take up the fight for better world

GENEVA (10 October 2019) – On the occasion of the International Day of the Girl Child, UN human rights experts* have applauded the energy and sense of urgency, as well as courage and intellect, that girls and young women have brought to recognizing and confronting many of today’s struggles from climate change and gender equality to poverty and violence. In a joint statement the experts say adolescent girls need to be supported by everyone who cares about human rights and a sustainable future.

“Youth activism, spearheaded by girls, has brought fresh energy and a renewed sense of urgency to tackling issues fought by generations before them. They have shown that no one is too young to act for human rights, and no one is too small to make a difference. These young human rights defenders are initiating, joining and spearheading movements with insistence and courage, confronting backlashes and attacks.

These girls and young women are increasingly being recognized. Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Noble Prize laureate at the age of 17 in recognition of her fight for girls’ right to education, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg was this year invited to address world leaders at the global climate summit, and Autumn Peltier, the 13-year-old indigenous girl has been nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize. There are many others who are actively engaged for social justice. They should be supported by everyone who cares for human rights and sustainable future. Different generations need to join forces in pursuit of social justice.

It is deeply troubling that some of these brave young girls and women have been subjected to harassment and abuse and sometimes hateful attacks on social media. Attacks on young human rights defenders should not be tolerated. States have obligations to ensure enjoyment of rights by girls and boys, including their right to privacy, freedom of thought, expression and association.

Thirty years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 25 years after the Beijing World Conference on Women, and after 40 years of implementing the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, we are starting to see notable progress in the area of the rights of the girl child. However, the cycle of girls’ disadvantaged situation proves difficult to break in many places, where many girls continue to be considered inferior, neglected and subjected to harmful stereotypes, forced into marriages and contemporary forms of slavery, subjected to violence in the family and schools, deprived of educational opportunities and their sexual and reproductive rights.

And yet despite their generally disadvantaged position, girls and young women are at the forefront of critical struggles of our time, characterised by political, socio-economic and environmental crises. They are engaged in a range of issues, demanding an end to gender-based violence, gun violence, and fundamentalism and extremism, and insist on implementation of the right to education, sexual and reproductive rights, and economic and political empowerment. They fight for environmental justice, the rights to water and sanitation, the rights of the indigenous peoples, minorities, migrants, and LGBT persons. They are not only standing up against the backlash but also demanding accountability and proposing new solutions for a different world, often employing innovative and creative methods. They are acting as agents of change in public life.

Today as the international community commemorates this international day for the 7th year, we celebrate girls for their achievements and their social activism. Adolescent girls, standing at the forefront of many of today’s struggles, have demonstrated their unique power to mobilize and to lead. They are demanding full protection of their human rights to a safe and sustainable planet and their voices to be heard. We call upon States to take every step to fulfil their human rights obligations and national and international policy makers to hear their voices loud and clear.”


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