Launching Youth for Change
On Thursday I attended the launch of #YouthForChange - a youth-led partnership to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage in the UK, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. Leaders and activists from across organisations came together at Plan International UK's headquarters to hear about what the partnership has achieved so far and what it hopes to do next.
For me, the event had a special significance - it was my first experience as a #YouthForChange panel member. On Thursday, I arrived at Plan International UK's office into a flurry of activity there was just enough time for quick introductions before it was my first chance to get to work, helping to practise and prepare a short presentation alongside my fellow panel members. It was certainly a case of jumping in at the deep end, but I was warmly welcomed by everyone I met and couldn't wait for the event to get started. A quick brief, a few last minute instructions, and the doors were open.
The invitation to the evening had been accepted by some truly inspirational figures from across the girls' rights sector, such as representatives from The Girl Generation, Girls Not Brides, World Vision and Girl Guiding were joined by members of Plan International UK and the UK's Department for International Development (DFID). It was fantastic to be surrounded by so many people driven by a passion for the same cause.
We were hugely grateful to be joined for the evening by Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development, whose support has been invaluable to #YouthForChange so far. The panel members had the chance to ask her a few questions and squeeze in a quick photo before the event officially opened. Panel member Daniel and Plan International UK CEO Tanya Barron welcomed guests to what promised to be an interesting evening, before the Secretary of State explained why girls' rights matter to her. Her final note was an assurance to the #YouthForChange panel that we could count on her personal support - an incredible pledge from someone with such expertise and influence in the sector.
Next to the stage were panel members and sisters Habon and Kaltun, who performed a powerful poem together. Only moments before they'd whispered to me that their nerves had kicked in - but it was impossible to tell from the conviction in their voices! I had my first opportunity to speak to the audience in the presentation that followed, during which we explained the aims, achievements and ambitions of the movement. The guests reaction to our plans seemed decidedly positive and I hope that many of them went away with a clear idea of how they could be involved moving forward.
An impressive list of names made up the panel for the next part of the evening, and it was great to hear such a breadth of opinions on why young people are important to efforts to end FGM and child marriage. Kerry Smith from Plan International UK, Jo Hemming from The Girl Generation, Gerard Howe from DFID, Nimco Ali, an FGM Activist and Yemurai Nyoni from Girls Not Brides all reiterated one key message - in order to be part of the solution young people must be invited and encouraged to join the conversation. Yemurai, Girls Not Brides Youth Ambassador, summed it up pretty clearly - if you're not at the table, you're probably on the menu!
Finally, we were lucky enough to watch BareTruth Theatre Company perform part of their drama series Little Stitches. The room as a whole was tremendously moved by the power and poignancy of the performance, which explored issues of cultural hegemony around FGM in the UK. The theatricality brought the issue to life in a way that discussion cannot always do, and it was an enormously effective way of reiterating the fundamental reason that we had all come together for the evening.
Once our guests had been thanked there was a chance to relax over a drink and talk to some of the people I'd been so looking forward to meeting. The general feeling in the room was one of immense support both for what #YouthForChange stand for and aim to do, and I feel incredibly excited to be part of it.
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