Every year, the European Week of Action for Girls (EWAG) brings together young advocates from Europe and Africa, creating a space for their voices to be heard by top European Union (EU) decision makers. The EWAG Coalition is formed by nine non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working to ensure girls’ rights are at the core of the EU’s external action. We do this by organising advocacy activities, as well as public events and meetings with politicians, and other influential stakeholders in order to provide a platform for young advocates to share their views and advance girls’ rights.
The 2021 edition
The 2021 edition of EWAG happened completely online for the second year in a row, to ensure safety in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, and broad participation. 30 young advocates from different European and African countries took part in different actions. Cooperation between the EU and Africa was at the centre of this year’s edition, looking at the next African Union (AU)-EU Summit expected to take place in February 2022. The consequences of and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic were also a focus, especially the way it has affected (and is still affecting) girls’ rights in both continents.
Under the theme #GirlsUnite, this years’ EWAG put four thematic pillars at the centre of the debate: Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), Education and Economic Empowerment and Political Participation. These pillars are also at the core of the 2021 EWAG Advocacy Paper, through which young advocates share their recommendations for the new AU-EU Partnership.
This year, eight DSW youth champions from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda contributed to making this EWAG edition a great success.
Highlights and events
The events of this years’ EWAG stretched over a longer period of time, starting with a series of capacity building sessions and trainings organised for the youth over the summer and culminating in a number of events and activities happening around the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11.
On October 11, EWAG 2021 kicked off with the public event “#GirlsUnite to shape the AU-EU Partnership”, where top decision makers from both the EU and the AU, among which Birgitte Markussen (EU Ambassador to the African Union), Bitania Lulu Berhanu (Special Adviser on Youth to EU Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen) and Stella Ronner-Grubacic (European External Action Service Special Adviser on Gender and Diversity) had the chance to engage with a number of young advocates. Kevin Owala, DSW Youth Champion from Kenya, spoke during the event, stressing the importance for the next AU-EU Partnership to focus on adequate access to youth-friendly health services and fight against harmful gender norms and practices.
Thanks to you. Was a great pleasure to take part in today’s contribution to the European Week of Action for Girls. Noted that our actions should not just be on paper and that girls should be partners, not just receivers! Happy #DayOfTheGirl to everyone #AUEU @EUtoAU https://t.co/P4Uc26jXfS
— Birgitte Markussen (@BNMarkussen) October 11, 2021
The young advocates virtually met and engaged with Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Soraya Rodríguez, who affirmed her strong commitment to advancing girls’ rights in the AU-EU Partnership. During the exchange, DSW Youth Champion Mwanaima from Tanzania presented some of the challenges girls and youth are facing in her community, including teenage pregnancy and the lack of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.
Gracias a vosotros por darme la oportunidad de participar en este estupendo debate #EUGirlsWeek con estas jóvenes y poderosas defensoras de los derechos de las niñas #GirlsUnite https://t.co/cAkkLnBVa1
— Soraya Rodríguez (@sorayarr_) October 19, 2021
Some young advocates also contributed to this EWAG through social media activities, such as DSW/Action 4 Health Uganda Youth Champion John Jessy Nabundesi, who took over the official EWAG Instagram account for one day, sharing stories about his work as a young advocate in Uganda, and answering questions by the account’s followers.
Speaking of social media, this year’s EWAG saw the launch of the new official EWAG Twitter account, through which the different partners of the Coalition finally have the opportunity to speak with a single voice throughout the year.
The series of events and activities ended on October 21, with two more public events happening on the same day. In the morning, young advocates met the Vice-President of the European Commission (EC) Věra Jourová and Netflix creators Busisiwe Ntintili and Sunni Faba for the “#GirlsUnite with Netflix” event. During the event, Vice-President Jourová shared personal stories about her life as a young girl, and highlighted the commitment of the EC to fight harmful stereotypes on and off the screen, while the Netflix creators Busisiwe Ntintili and Sunni Faba shared insights on their work as storytellers and on the powerful impact that storytelling has on different aspects of society, such as gender roles and the representation of minorities.
— Věra Jourová (@VeraJourova) October 21, 2021
In the afternoon, some young advocates, including DSW Youth Champions Habiba (Tanzania) and Jessy (Uganda), met once again to draw their conclusions on almost two weeks of events, meetings and activities, sharing their thoughts and impressions in a live Twitter Spaces wrap up event. “Empowering”, “outstanding”, “unforgettable”, were some of the words used by the young advocates to describe their experiences with EWAG.
The wrap up event formally closed this edition of EWAG, but the work of the young advocates is certainly not over. The AU-EU Summit in February will be a first test for decision makers to finally take girls’ voices into account.