Each year, starting on 25 November, marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, until 10 December, Human Rights Day, advocates around the world mark 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence (GBV). The global campaign aims to raise awareness on the harm girls and women face, demand accountability from governments and other decision-makers, and celebrate progress toward gender equality.
Data show that one in three girls and women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, emerging reports point to a “shadow pandemic” of skyrocketing rates of GBV.
As with many of the gravest challenges our world faces, young people are spearheading efforts and solutions to build a better, safer world for us all. There is a far-reaching constellation of young advocates standing up against GBV around the globe. Here are 16 Women Deliver Young Leaders who are making waves and creating change for girls and women:
1. Akosua Agyepong, Ghana
Twenty-four-year-old Akosua won a grant from the Australian High Commission to construct an emergency shelter for survivors of domestic violence in Ghana. “I had that dream penned down at the age of 19, as I […] kept on wondering why no such support existed for girls, women, or any survivor of sexual and gender-based violence,” said Akosua. Called the Pearl Safe Haven, the shelter will house 100 survivors annually once completed by November 2020. “The elimination of all forms of violence against girls and women is possible, but it will take the efforts and resources of everybody, young and old, to make this a reality. I am proud that I can be a part of this fight against violence, and I hope that you will join me too.”
2. Matthew Chukwudi Nwozaku, Nigeria
Twenty-one-year-old Matthew places LGBTQI+ girls and women at the forefront of their activism by calling for the eradication of GBV and the fetishization of queer women in Nigeria. Their virtual advocacy through Zoom conversations, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter is especially significant during the COVID-19 era, as cases of human rights violations have drastically risen during Nigeria’s quarantines. “I believe that men have a role to play in this quest for total freedom,” said Matthew, and that role “is to hold other men accountable for their actions.”
3. Arezoo Najibzadeh, Canada
In 2018, 24-year-old Arezoo established It’s Time, a set of survivor-centric, trauma-informed resources for addressing sexual violence in political institutions. This project has provided training to more than 100 politicians, political staff, and volunteers on creating consent culture within campaigns and in legislatures.
4. Jackline Chami, Tanzania
Through the “Girls, Let’s Be Leaders” project with Restless Development, 28-year-old Jackline educated 53 girls and young women aged 15 to 24 in Tanzania on GBV and its effects. She also trained them on ways to generate their own income in order to decrease their dependency on spouses or other people who violate their rights to earn money. The girls were able to form three business groups, and 16 of them formed their own individual businesses. Gradually, their businesses helped them gain security and financial independence.
Jackline taking part in a livelihood training for girls and young women in Mbagala, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (Photo courtesy of Jackline Chami)
5. Juliana Laguna Trujillo, Colombia
As an attorney at Women’s Link Worldwide, 26-year-old Juliana led a team that accompanied a survivor of reproductive violence in the ranks of an illegal armed group in Colombia in her fight before national institutions and courts. Thanks to Juliana’s work, the Constitutional Court of Colombia issued a landmark decision that granted the survivor access to comprehensive reparations as an ex-combatant victim.
6. Larissa Kennedy, United Kingdom
As a student activist, 22-year-old Larissa was a key organizer against sexual violence at the University of Warwick, leading their student union’s response. She successfully lobbied for an independent review of the university’s disciplinary system, a permanent contract for an independent sexual violence advisor, and decreased waiting times for mental health services.
7. Liz Guantai, Kenya
According to Liz, one of the main challenges to ending female genital mutilation (FGM) and GBV is their deep roots in the traditions and culture of a community. Upon identifying this problem, the 28-year-old worked closely with and trained leaders who were responsible for shifting norms in local communities. Liz educated the participants on human rights, gender equality, and child protection, with a specific focus on the harms of FGM and GBV to the health and wellness of girls and women. Following the training, the leaders were able to better identify cases of violence, facilitate interventions, and expedite justice for survivors through a referral system and close collaboration between hospitals, police, and the judiciary.
8. Irina Novac, Romania
Twenty-year-old Irina organized the Camp for Sisterhood project for young Romanian girls aged 16 to 19 to learn about GBV and self-defense. Camp participants also discussed the gender equality movement, and together they created a safe space to bond, gain self-confidence, and discuss topics that are often “unspeakable” in society at large, such as abuse and harm to girls and women. “I want to live in a safe world. We all do. We need to clear a path for girls and women in order to live in a better world,” Irina said.
Girls coming together to bond and gain self-confidence at the Camp for Sisterhood. (Photo courtesy of Irina Novac)
9. Nowshin Chowdhury, Bangladesh
In one of her biggest successes as a gender equality advocate, 26-year-old Nowshin won the Telenor Youth Summit for designing an app that helps prevent violence against girls and women. Through this service, app users receive monthly safety and wellness check-ins from their local authority. If a user does not provide an update, a helpline service will call the user to get assurance of their current situation. In addition, the app also allows users to send a distress signal to alert relevant authorities.
10. Melissa Simplício, Brazil
Seventeen-year-old Melissa in Brazil brought her activism to her campus by spearheading a school assembly to raise awareness on domestic violence and abuse, with support from her school’s psychologist and principal. Through this event, Melissa also educated peers and faculty on how to request help and press charges if they or someone they know experienced GBV.
11. Sheyla Tamariz Salazar, Peru
As a Training Specialist with the Directorate of Cultural Diversity and Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Peru’s Ministry of Culture, 25-year-old Sheyla not only develops strategies to prevent racism but also works to eliminate violence against Indigenous women. Her efforts included sending Quechua-language films to 435 districts across Peru and hosting discussions about gender equality and the position of Indigenous women in Peruvian society. Thanks to such efforts, leaders in the ministry are now better sensitized to the issue of violence faced by girls and women, particularly those in Indigenous communities.
12. Sara El Outa, Lebanon
After the lockdown in Lebanon resulted in increased reports of domestic violence, 27-year-old Sara and her team at the Lebanese Democratic Women’s Gathering (RDFL) worked on responding to these cases through psychosocial and legal support via online counseling. Because Lebanon faces not only a health emergency situation but also a socioeconomic crisis, RDFL’s humanitarian interventions prioritized requests from girls and women living in rural areas and under vulnerable conditions. She also engaged youth groups in these efforts in order to better communicate with, reach, and serve those in need of cash assistance or protection from GBV. “Without youth engagement, it is very hard to boost our volunteer services and respond to emergency requests,” said Sara, emphasizing the importance of young people’s involvement in ending GBV.
Through a myriad of efforts from advocacy with local government to distribution of hygiene kits, Sara, along with local civil society organizations, are working to support girls and women in Lebanon who face compounding challenges. (Photo courtesy of Sara El Outa)
13. Trang Nguyen Ha, Vietnam
Twenty-six-year-old Trang initiated a digital media campaign called “Dua Thi Phai Vui” (“Your Jokes Are Not Funny”), which focuses on supporting community members in Vietnam to shift from being passive witnesses to taking active steps to speak up or step in to prevent or respond to sexual violence. The platform now has more than 30,000 followers. As a Founder and Campaign Manager of YChange, a youth organization working towards gender equality and women’s human rights, Trang also conducts research on dating violence, campaigns against sexual violence, and provides training to youth on gender and women’s human rights. She is currently working on a project called “Gender-responsive Early Childhood Education,” which aims to help eliminate gender stereotypes in preschools for the prevention of gender-based violence.
Preschool teachers of Quang Ngai, a mountainous province in Vietnam, using dynamic classroom approaches, including games, to address gender stereotypes and GBV. (Photo courtesy of Trang Nguyen Ha)
14. Sithembiso (Thembi) Sweswe, Zimbabwe
Twenty-seven-year-old Thembi established the Help Desk Program, a service that mobilizes lawyers to provide free legal assistance to rural women and children in Zimbabwe. From 2019 to 2020, this program offered free legal aid to 115 girls and women through drafting court applications for gender-based violence cases and land dispute issues. More than 50 percent of the cases were successfully granted peace orders and protection orders, and 40 percent of the cases were granted maintenance.
15. Sophie Beria, Georgia
Twenty-seven-year-old Sophie co-created All About You, the first website on comprehensive sexuality education in Georgia. The platform is made entirely by young people for young people and currently houses more than 100 articles on everything from menstruation information to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). One of the website’s main topics is GBV, featuring several resources on recognizing if a partner is abusive, creating a security plan, and helping victims of violence. The website quickly transformed into an interactive advocacy tool, with hundreds of readers reaching out with questions and requests daily.
Sophie introduces All About You to NGOs and activists working on gender equality and related issues. (Photo courtesy of Sophie Beria)
16. Felipe Ochoa Mogrovejo, Ecuador
Felipe co-founded the Aequitas Association for Gender Equality, where he currently volunteers as the Director of Diversity. In this role, the 28-year-old creates short-term courses, fundraising events, and conferences related to the prevention of gender violence, improving knowledge of new masculinities, and empowering girls and women. Together with Aequitas, they have successfully trained 200 children and women from local communities and developed an advocacy network with several organizations working on gender and LGBTQI+ rights. This coalition is a permanent member on the board to eradicate gender violence in Cuenca, Ecuador and contributes to enforcing local and national laws to prevent GBV.
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