Bearing Witness to Girls' Activism - Tuesday
Jurors for the Girls Tribuanl on Violence, from left: Dan Seymour, Abigail Disney, Faith Nenkai Metiaki and Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein
Girls' Tribunal on Violence
In emotional, first person testimony, panelists at the Girls' Tribunal on Violence presented case after case of gender inequality and injustice that girls face every day around the world.
The girls bore witness to how they transformed victimization into advocacy during the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women event on Tuesday that was sponsored by the Working Group on Girls. The tribunal included jurists Abigail Disney, a New York filmmaker, philanthropist and activist; Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, permanent representative of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United Nations; Faith Nenkai Metiaki, student activist at the University of Nairobi and former UN youth delegate to the United Nations; and Dan Seymour, UN Women’s deputy director of programmes.
Media-based violence, school violence, community violence
The nine witnesses – high school and college-age girls – represented the United States, Finland, El Salvador, Mozambique, Mexico and Brazil. They testified about their experiences with media-based violence, violence in schools and violence in communities.
“Living free of violence is a human right,” Metaiki said after hearing the testimony. “Even as a girl or a woman, you may not know this is a human right. They grow up thinking that this is the way things are supposed to be. It is important to change the mindset of women so that they know it is a human right.”
Standing up and demanding change
Already changes are taking place. Girls are starting programs in their schools and their communities. They are reaching out to their peers – male and female – and to teachers, parents and other leaders. They are standing up against cyber-bullying, forced early marriage and female genital mutilation.
They are holding media accountable and demanding that magazines like Seventeen refrain from altering photographs to present unrealistic images of girls and beauty. They are lobbying their governments for legislation like the safe dating bill that was passed in New Jersey, which requires relationship abuse to be incorporated into the curriculum for seventh through 12th graders.
“We are talking about things that speak to an underlying truth – that we create these constraints,” Seymour said. “We create these masculine constraints, and we create these feminine constraints, which undermine girls.
“The constraints are not accidental. They are the consequences of decisions people make about how they will behave to each other. Here we have a group of young people who reject these decisions and commit to making different decisions. It is our job to listen, learn and take action that extends out to other people.”
Messages that resonate
The candidness and honesty expressed by the witnesses also had a profound effect on the delegates with the School Sisters of Notre Dame who attended the tribunal. Marie Diop, a student from Notre Dame of Maryland University, said that she was moved by the girl from Mozambique who shared the story of a 16-year-old girl whose parents who had to drop out of school when her parents forced her to marry an older man.
“That really caught my attention,” Marie said. “What stuck in my head was her line, ‘Marriage later. Let me study now.”