Every year, a coalition of European NGOs come together as part of the European Week of Action for Girls (EWAG) to amplify girls’ voices and call for girls’ rights to be at the core of the EU’s external action. This year, EWAG, which is organised around the International Day of the Girl Child (October 11) will celebrate its 10th anniversary. After two online editions due to COVID-19, it will finally be held again in person in Brussels.
For this year’s EWAG (October 10 – 14), fourteen young advocates from around the world will travel to Brussels to meet with European decision makers. Among them are three of DSW’s youth champions: Burnice from Kenya, John Jessy from Uganda, and Mwanaima from Tanzania.
Burnice, 25, Kenya
Burnice is a youth champion from Nyandarua County (Kenya). With a background in health, nutrition and dietetics, her passion for adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is fuelled by the numerous challenges faced by young women and girls in her community, particularly the increasing rates of teenage pregnancy. Burnice advocates for youth rights at local, national, and international levels, and successfully secured additional funding for youth-focused projects, including youth-friendly family planning services.
She says: “Deep-rooted myths and misconceptions about sexual and reproductive health services are widespread, with young people as a result facing many barriers to obtaining such services. This is compounded by the lack of youth-friendly services that are available – this really needs to change!”
John Jessy, 23, Uganda
John Jessy is a youth champion from Mukono district (Uganda). He is passionate about amplifying the voices of young people in his country with a focus on reproductive health and family planning financing. Through his advocacy work, he has contributed to increased domestic funding for family planning in his community and at the Mukono district level.
He says: “Providing young people with accurate information so that they can make informed decisions is really important. Also, the development of youth corners – spaces where young people can access health services, including sexual and reproductive health services – in health facilities has proven to be an effective way of ensuring young people seek out services. It would be great to see more such corners introduced, so that young people, wherever they are in Uganda, can have access to such a space.”
Mwanaima, 25, Tanzania
Mwanaima is a youth champion from Tanga, eastern Tanzania. She became a peer educator while a student at the University of Dar es Salaam. She is passionate about education and sharing information, and she has done a lot of work educating young people about issues relating to their SRHR. Mwanaima is also passionate about advocating for better SRHR services for people with disabilities and amplifying youth voices.
She says: “Giving girls education on sexual and reproductive health is especially important, as it gives them the opportunity to know their health rights and where to report their challenges, set their goals and plans, and focus on their ambitions for the future. Girls can be leaders, doctors, caretakers, or engineers. All of these are possible if they can walk towards their dreams healthily.”
For this year’s 10th EWAG edition, which has the slogan #GirlsDecade, our youth champions will be involved in a series of meetings and events with EU decision-makers, calling on them to prioritise girls’ rights in their work and actions. Events will include an exchange of view with MEPs in the Development (DEVE) Committee of the European Parliament, a roundtable discussion with representatives of EU member states, and bilateral meetings with members of the European Parliament and European Commission staff working on youth and gender-related issues.
To mark the 10th anniversary of EWAG, this year there will also be an art exhibition in front of the European Parliament building in Brussels, which will be displayed throughout the week (11-15 October). The exhibition 10 in 10: The world through the eyes of a girl will feature illustrations by five different artists from around the world, portraying how the world could look like for a 10-year-old girl ten years from now – if the rights of girls are fully upheld. It will focus on the five themes that the 2022 EWAG Young Advocates identified as their priorities for the future: political and civic participation, SRHR, harmful gender norms and stereotypes, youth economic empowerment, and inclusive and quality education. Each art piece will be accompanied by a message written by the young advocates themselves about their own experiences, aspirations, demands and hopes.