A few weeks ago, I had the incredible opportunity to speak at a Plan International and Save the Children panel event about International Day of the Girl. I sat among diverse youth advocates from around the world, and the visual significance of our group really stood out to me. Here we were on Capitol Hill in the Russell Senate building, a space which was once dedicated to hosting powerful men in politics, but was now hosting us — a group of young people fighting for girls’ rights.
Our presence was antithetical to the idea that women’s narratives are not important, and that there is not sufficient space for their discourse. As my fellow panelists and I each conversed in various tones and languages, with various messages and experiences, the panel felt rich in its representation of gender issues. It brought young women’s work and voices to light.
As a young person, I have struggled to have my voice heard. In school, at work, and with friends, being a woman carries circumstances of condescension and discrimination which I have to negotiate with my reality. Participating on the panel allowed me to see not just the unique spectrum of issues that girls from various socio-economic, cultural, and national backgrounds face, but how they are choosing to respond. Unlike the traditional, formulaic approach to discussing girls’ rights — often in high-level meetings where girls are absent — this event highlighted the agency of youth activists and the power of passing the microphone.
I learned of my fellow panelists’ journeys in helping raise awareness for a variety of causes, from increasing girls’ voices in politics to fighting for girls’ educational rights. My fellow panelists, all youth activists, held a bottom-up approach to their advocacy work — it was organic, grassroots, and tailored with immense thought and understanding. They worked with local communities, strove to empathize, and amplified hundreds of other voices along the way.
Giving young people the microphone, I realized, brought to light so many other forgotten voices. It created an equitable space, free from paternalistic narratives of aid and change-making. Instead of making decisions for others and imposing them, my fellow panelists were working in their respective communities to help other girls have access to the agency and resources to make autonomous decisions. They were creating equitable spaces for girls to take charge of themselves, their future, and their community’s direction.
I’m extremely thankful to have spoken on the panel and to have met inspiring girls’ rights activists from around the world. From Plan International USA to everyone else in attendance, each agent is helping affirm the fact we need more events such as these. We need more girls speaking, and we need more girls to be heard. We need to work towards a state in which girls’ voices are not simply a net benefit, but a necessity. Personally, I want to attend future panels where I no longer consider women holding the microphone as a novelty. It should, as my fellow panelists and I have echoed, be the norm.