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Bringing the voices of 10 million girls to the UN Commission on the Status of Women

Bringing the voices of 10 million girls to the UN Commission on the Status of Women

By Hannah Woodward

I’ve been surrounded by thousands of inspirational women from every corner of the world for the past two weeks. It’s been incredible. As an Australian it has been such an honour to be amongst ten Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, selected from different countries in our global movement (including Kenya, Rwanda, Tunisia, Canada, Germany and the UK), forming a delegation to the UN’s 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Our role was to advocate, lobby, and ensure that girls and young women (and our priorities) were included in the agenda.

Together with various colleagues from the UN, governments and civil society, we have been working towards one goal: gender equality. A huge number of people attended CSW and hundreds of events and meetings took place. Yet, my colleagues and I, representing the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, were nearly always the youngest people in the room.

CSW is the principal intergovernmental body for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. A key role of the Commission is to ensure the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (a document initially agreed upon over 20 years ago, and still the most progressive roadmap to gender equality we have).  Each year the Commission centres on a different theme. This year the focus was on “women’s empowerment and its links to sustainable development”. The Global Goals include a standalone goal and various targets on gender equality, but the Commission also sought to emphasise that women will have an essential role to play in achieving these goals, which can only occur when women and girls are empowered. There was also a review of progress on gender-based violence, with recognition that this is a key barrier to gender equality and prevents women and girls from contributing to the sustainable development agenda.

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Photo courtesy of Hannah Woodward.

There are over ten million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in 146 countries around the world. I am just one member of what is the world’s biggest volunteer organisation specifically dedicated to girls and young women. Through the movement girls are able to develop essential life skills, build on their leadership capabilities, and become advocates in their communities. Attending such an event helped me to realise that I am indeed a lucky one from a “lucky country”. There are girls and young women around the world who aren’t able to speak up at events like this or at home in their own communities. This recognition was the driving force behind our passion to ensure that our delegation spoke out and asked that each and every girl in the world is given the opportunity to develop to her full potential, and to be able to speak out for herself and her community.

Together our delegation highlighted that it is essential for girls and young women to be given specific consideration in such agreements, as they face unique circumstances and double discrimination, based not only on their gender but also on their age. I was delighted to speak alongside the Australian Office for Women, UNICEF’s Global Innovation Centre and Restless Development on “Rhetoric to Reality: Implementing and Monitoring the Global Goals for Girls” where we discussed the many challenges facing girls and young women. We agreed that these challenges need to be addressed so that no one is prevented from participating in decision-making that will affect their lives. We also agreed that there needs to be increased investment in girls and young women, and that it is extremely important for them to be involved in project design and implementation. Not only does this help to empower them, but also it helps ensure that progress is sustainable and that the correct issues are addressed in a relevant and appropriate way.

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Hannah with Natasha Stott Despoja, the Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls. Photo courtesy of Hannah Woodward.

I was also selected to facilitate a session of the Asia-Pacific Caucus, and worked with representatives from numerous NGOs from the region to discuss how we can all work in a more meaningful way to engage young people – at major conventions like CSW and also in our day-to-day work back home. Through participation in a broad range of events our delegation also spoke out on other issues such as education, gender-based violence, negative stereotypes and attitudes, girl- and youth-led organisations, recognition of diversity, climate change, decent employment and access to comprehensive health services.

The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts wanted to demonstrate that young women are informed and capable; girls have something vital to contribute and we deserve a seat at the table. I feel that our delegation were successful in doing just that. I am proud of the feedback we received; so many people approached us and told us that together our delegation were prepared, influential and impactful in all that we did and said.

Girls and young women are a vital part of our global community and have an interest in the issues that affect people and planet. I can’t wait to bring back everything I’ve learned from my fellow delegates and my experience at the CSW and to be advocating for the rights and needs of girls and young women in the future. As a young woman I am committed to being a role model and to supporting girls to reach their full potential.

Hannah Woodward is a 24 year old volunteer Girl Guide leader of two units – 14 to 18 years old and 7 to 10 years old – from Balcatta, Western Australia. ‎Since becoming a leader Hannah has been readily engaged in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts Global Action Themes, MDGS and now SDGS, and also supports the Stop the Violence campaign. You can follow her on Twitter.

Featured image shows Hannah at the UN. Photo courtesy of Hannah Woodward.

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