Girls and Young Women (GYW) took part in a critical regional peace-building conference in November 2021 that enabled them to advocate for more inclusive policies and meaningful engagement and also advocate for their increased participation in regional peace and security matters.
Girls and young women have the right to be engaged by civil society, governments, Regional Economic Communities & Regional Mechanism as well as serve on boards, and make their voices heard in any process that will ultimately affect them, their families, and their communities. Mostly, girls under the age of 18 years are rarely given the opportunity to participate in regional peace and security advocacy spaces, Inasmuch as it is their right to have their voices heard in decision-making processes as well as be included in national, regional and global policy development as per the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
They are usually categorized as ‘youth’ with zero to very minimal representation at regional consultations on Youth Peace and Security Interventions because of their age and sex. This double discrimination results in their exclusion from participation, protection, and access to funding and programmes.
In an effort to ensure meaningful participation and engagement of girls and young women in regional decision-making spaces, the Horn of Africa Youth Network (HoAYN) team and Terre des Hommes Netherlands team, under the She Leads Programme, invited a few girls and young women to take part in a peacebuilding conference in Nairobi, Kenya. The GYW were given a platform to advocate for inclusive policies and increased participation in peace and security matters and directly engage with regional decision-makers from the African Union, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and Intergovernmental Authority on Development among others.
The overall goal of the conference was to deliberate on strategies to better support, promote and invest in young peacebuilders in the region as well as build stronger and inclusive policy formulation while sharing best practices to strengthen collaboration and accountability mechanisms amongst themselves.
The regional participants sensitised the youth on the continental normative frameworks and initiatives on youth, peace and security agenda namely, youth for peace initiative, African Union Agenda 2063, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250, the African Charter, African Union Continental framework (silencing the guns agenda). A communiquè with key recommendations on youth peace and security agenda in the region was to be signed and adopted by ministers from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and South Sudan.
The Girls and Young Women were able to directly present their advocacy asks in their own voices and in their own words which were included in the communiquè with recommendations for adoption especially on the pillar of protection under the African Union Continental Framework on Youth, Peace and Security. A commitment was made to make sure that the voices, needs, and priorities of women and girls are included in all functions and components of peacekeeping to promote their political participation.
“I want to assure all the ministers, delegates, and partners that the Kenyan government will take up the conference's recommendations and, in collaboration with the organizers, will develop a national framework for implementing them-¨ Joe Mucheru - Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of ICT Innovation and Youth Affairs Kenya.
Giving GYW an opportunity to speak for themselves showed regional bodies the importance of including them in high-level discussions.
By investing in gender-responsive political participation, the regional community not only moved closer to realising girls’ and women’s basic human rights, but also fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets that depend upon it. While achieving gender equality and empowering girls and women as part of SDG 5 goal, the benefits of including girls and women in decision-making are cross-cutting, paving the way to more inclusive and resilient political processes and democracies, balanced economies, and enhanced peace-building capacities.
It is important to not only advocate for gender-inclusive policies in writing but also in practice, opportunities should be given for GYW to contribute to the development and review of these policies which is what the She Leads Regional Programme aims to achieve. The programme aims to support/sponsor GYW led groups to engage in regional spaces, undertake capacity development, facilitate representation of GYW groups in relevant spaces including existing regional youth networks and facilitate the participation of GYW in joint learning sessions.