Girls speak out for their rights at UN-backed forum
Girls from around the world – including a former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), an HIV-positive rape victim from Zambia, and a child-labourer from Nepal – have come together to share the experiences that made them activists at an event at United Nations Headquarters.
The poignant voices of these and other girls at Friday's event, called “Girls Speak Out” and moderated by CBS News anchor Katie Couric of the United States, drew an emotional response from those attending, including delegates to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, whose two-week session ends on 9 March.
Madeleine, a 15-year-old former soldier from the DRC, recounted her experiences in the jungles of Eastern Congo, where she fought on the front lines of the civil war. She joined the Mai-Mai armed group in 2002 when she was only 11 years old without having completed primary schooling. After receiving military training, she spent two years with the group in the Uvira region before being demobilized as a soldier in 2004.
“Girls who have been demobilized now live in local communities. And I must say that 7 or 8 out of 10 of us have children – children that are being rejected by our communities,” the former girl soldier told her fellow delegates. “Some of us are suffering from diseases like HIV/AIDS, and yet we don't have access to treatment. What have we done wrong to suffer like this? What will be our future?” she asked, before she broke down in tears. The audience gave her a standing ovation.
The event was organized as part of a debate on how to curb the discrimination and violence that girls face in all regions, which is the priority theme of this year's Commission session. Over 2,000 women and girls have come from around the world to join government delegates in seeking solutions to these problems.
The impact of discrimination and violence against girls is staggering: 55 million girls are not in school; millions of school-aged girls work in domestic service; an estimated 40 per cent of child soldiers are girls; and more than 60 per cent of young people aged 15-25 living with HIV and AIDS are female.
“We are not only the subject of the conference, but we are also the voice of this conference,” said 16-year-old Jordana Alter Confino from New Jersey, who was a co-moderator of the special event. Ms. Confino is one of the founders of Girls Learn International, a service initiative engaging middle and high school students from the United States in the campaign to achieve universal girls' education.
Katie Couric, a mother of two girls, told delegates that there was so much to learn from this discussion, observing: “To change the world, you have to learn the world.”