Achie Girl Advocate

Girls Take the Lead in Shaping Their Future at the UN's Commission on the Status of Women

Last week, at the 59th session of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – the chief intergovernmental body dedicated to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women – New York City hosted leaders responsible for making the world’s most important decisions. But the real agents of change during CSW were not who you would necessarily expect: they were adolescent girls.

Achie (pictured), a charming 16-year-old student from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and a CSW delegate for Let Girls Lead (LGL), is one of those agents of change. Meeting Achie and listening to her demands for the future of girls, there is little doubt about her desire to transform the world. Her dedication to equal opportunities for girls and women began at the YWCA of Ethiopia, where she was an active member in the summer volunteering programme providing quality education to children from low-income families.

After leading the programme for two years, she was connected with LGL and received training through Let Girls Lead's Girls Voices Initiative (GVI), which focused on amplifying the power of girls by engaging in advocacy with national decision makers to ensure that girls’ voices are at the centre of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Achie has been doing this at CSW alongside three of her fellow LGL delegates – Emelin from Guatemala, Memory from Malawi and Harriet from Uganda. As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are expiring and the 2030 SDGs are being drafted, CSW marks a critical time for girls to rally together to fight for their rights – and the rights of girls and women around the world. 

What I really want from this two-week session is to convince every policy maker here to put girls at the centre of their policies.

“What I really want from this two-week session is to convince every policy maker here to put girls at the centre of their policies,” Achie says. “Whether it’s education, health, safety, transportation or anything else – because I believe that girls are the key to the future.”

Girls at the table of global decision-making

Every day at CSW, each one of these young leaders takes to the stage with expert panellists to ensure that global decisions about girls are made with their voices being heard. Harriet, the founder and executive director of Rhythm of Life, which works with girls from the red light districts of Kampala, Uganda to improve access to healthcare and education, commands the room from her seat behind the microphone with fierceness and grace. She says: “I always feel like [daughters of sex workers] are really marginalised to the point where they think they’re only able to follow in their mother’s footsteps. I just want to see this new generation where they say: ‘Yes, I’m a daughter of a sex worker, so what? I can be a doctor, a psychologist.’ In that way, they are able to inspire many other girls.”

Achie adds: “We believed that 2015 would bring gender parity, but we failed because we didn’t invest in girls. If we don’t invest in girls today, then women are not going to be equal tomorrow because they didn’t have equal advantages as girls. Girls today are mothers tomorrow.”

Ask what our utopia is; what the perfect world for a girl is. Look how much different it is from reality.

According to the Girl Declaration, 250 million adolescent girls living in poverty have unique needs that are not being met by current policies. The Together for Girls partnership’s’ Violence Against Children surveys show that about one in four girls experiences sexual violence and more than one in two will experience physical violence before turning 18.

Giving girls the chance to define themselves

When asked what she would like to discuss with global leaders at CSW, Achie, who hopes to become an engineer, says: “Ask what our utopia is; what the perfect world for a girl is. Look how much different it is from reality. I would describe it as equal opportunity from the moment she comes out of the womb of her mother until the day she dies. It’s not being underestimated because of her sex. As a girl, you should be given the chance to define yourself, to define what you want and define who you are.”

While listening to Harriet and Achie, their knowledge and passion makes it easy to forget that they are girls growing up facing the world’s biggest challenges. It’s also easy to forget that what brings hundreds of girls like them to the UN for CSW is the very real possibility that girls and women could once again be marginalised in the new SDGs. But if anyone can push global leaders to prioritise girls, it’s leaders such as Achie and Harriet. They are shaping their own futures and ensuring other girls are able to do the same for generations to come. 

Kelly Hagler is a Global Health Corps fellow and the communications and youth advocacy officer at Together for Girls. 

Together for Girls is a global public-private partnership dedicated to ending violence against children, with a focus on sexual violence against girls. To address this horrific human rights violation and public health problem, Together for Girls brings together the expertise and resources of many of the strongest biggest organisations working globally in development, public health and children and women’s rights to collaborate with national governments and civil society.