Hey world leaders, this is what youth participation looks like

It’s been little over a month since global leaders ushered in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations in New York City. Sandra Mutoni, a 21-year-old student from Kigali, travelled to the big apple for the UN Summit on Sustainable Development as a girl advocate. There she joined the Girl Effect team to watch history be made. Here, she lays out what the SDG Summit meant to her.

Now is the time for action on, and implementation of, all of the 17 goals that were adopted. It’s a time to demand accountability from our leaders.

Going to New York City during the week of the UN SDGs summit and participating in the events there meant that I heard first-hand what leaders committed to: supporting girls and women in education, health, security, financial empowerment, political participation and putting an end to violence.

Hearing the Kenyan president recognise FGM exists and dedicate his efforts to tackle it was priceless. I expect to see results!

Among the commitments I heard made by different heads of state, the most important to me was from the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta. He pledged to end female genital mutilation in Kenya. Although FGM isn’t practised in Rwanda, I know it’s the most painful torture a girl can ever experience. So, hearing a head of state recognising it exists and dedicating his efforts to tackle it was priceless. I expect to see results!

Sandra Mutoni participating in a Girl Effect workshop for girl advocates during the SDGs summit in New York

My favorite event was “The Power of an Educated Girl” at The Apollo Theater, where Michelle Obama encouraged us to take our education seriously. She said there are 62 million girls in the world that would trade anything to have the opportunity to go to school.

I always knew Michelle was an outspoken woman, but this time I could really feel her passion for girls’ empowerment and self-reliance. She said: “If I worried about who liked me and who thought I was cute when I was your age, I wouldn’t be married to the president of the United States.”


I take education very seriously. My mother didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. Our culture at the time meant that education for girls was not important, so she only went to primary school and was married by 19.

I am working to set up a session with girls in my town to talk about what to expect from the SDGs – most don’t even know what they are.

I have eight siblings, and after my father died my mother raised us on her own. She sold ladies’ clothing to support us, but she didn’t make much money. At the beginning of each term when she had to pay tuition fees, she would remind me that it wasn’t easy. She would say: “I’m investing in you and I expect you to reap from it.”

Today, I study international business at Mount Kenya University in Kigali, and I work in sales and marketing at a media company.

In the next 15 years, I want girls to have access to quality education because I believe all of life’s challenges are tied to education. If you have knowledge you can unlock doors.


The SDGs mean education for girls in Rwanda, and opportunities for equal participation. It’s important for girls to know their rights and how to claim them.

Sandra (far right) with World YWCA General-Secretary Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda (middle) and fellow girl advocate Pascaline Niyigena (far left).

To this end, I’m planning to hold a workshop with girls in my town to talk about what to expect from the SDGs – most don’t even know what they are. They’re at a crucial age right now because they’re starting secondary school and university, and they need guidance on how to prepare for life.

In the next 15 years I want to see youth participate in all aspects of governance. These young people are the leaders of tomorrow, but they are also the partners of today. It’s important to involve them in the development of the country. If they are invested in these values and understand them, they can deliver and produce results in the future.

In 15 years, I will be in my 30s. But I have younger brothers and sisters, and I want to see them in a better place than they are today. We have to take responsibility not just for us today, but the generations that will come after us. It’s our duty and our legacy.

All photos: Roberto Ricci D`Andonno for Girl Effect