The European Development Days is an annual conference set up by the European Commission to showcase the work of the international community, in championing global development and ending poverty. The European Commission is the largest donor of aid in Africa and is unique in that all it’s member states adopt coherent policies on international development. The impact of this was easy to see with the extensive efforts of different organisations targeting various areas of development. These ranged from export of Caribbean Goods for sustainable development of Caribbean-owned businesses to virtual reality methods of story telling.
On the 7th – 8th June, FORWARD‘s Tuwezeshe Dada project, in cooperation with The Girl Generation and AMREF had the privilege of hosting a session on the Importance of Investing in Youth to end GBV at #EDD17 in Brussels, Belgium. Aside from being inspired by some notable speakers including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, the following themes were very noticeable throughout the days.
Understanding your vision
Tuwezeshe Akina Dada is a consortium of pioneering, Africa/Diaspora organisations; we pride our self in that. To quote Seleyian Ortoip, one of the panellists at our session: “I don’t want anyone else telling my story for me”. If African women and girls are to change the narrative surrounding their rights and dignity, they must be at the forefront of their own stories. Whilst there is great value in collaboration, African women and girls must be given the spaces to execute their visions. Throughout the 2 days at the EDD, many European organisations would stop and engage in conversation about the work we were doing. This was occasionally followed by suggestions on how African grass-root NGOs could alter methods and better spread their message.
Perhaps our methods are different to the Western perception of how problems should be fixed; that’s okay, diversity of voices can be productive, but each community must be free to lead their own change for that change to be sustainable. Our message to the global community is: we must work together but let us hold the reigns on issues that concern us. Our message to our diaspora young women: have faith in your methods, you know best what your community needs. The advantage you have in truly understanding your culture should not be underestimated or undermined.
Youth are the future
A number of sessions at the conference this year were youth-focused. From using mentoring to tackle radicalisation in the Horn of Africa to youth in agribuisness there was no hiding from the strong sentiment of African youth fueling Africa’s growth. Not least because young people have brilliant, world-changing ideas. They, more pressingly, are the ones most affected by poverty and conflict. Economic crises and political instability, even in more developed parts of the world, have a most profound effect on those who may not yet have access to full personal agency. For instance President John Magufuli of Tanzania saying that girls will not be allowed to re-enter school should they fall pregnant has tragic consequences not only for young mothers and children but for the state too. Instead of giving girls their education, girls are cut off from the means to improve their lives and contribute to the GDP of their countries. What a sorry picture that is for the continent.
Engaging in inter-generational conversations on taboo and cultural issues can be a challenge. However, investing in youth needn’t be a multi-billion scheme. Simply allowing them to live and have access to basic rights is in itself a huge investment.
“Those who’ve had experience abroad, should look for ways they can help back home”. Richard Dzikunu, EDD Young Leader 2017
The importance of your voice
The underlying theme of the development days this year was “I Am the Change”, calling all participants to recognise their ability to implement sustainable change through their mediums. At our stand, we had an interactive mural where members of the EDD wrote words of encouragement to the millennial young woman making a change in her community. This stance of solidarity encourages us that our work is noticed and that there are people supporting us in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence. It is a fight against centuries of patriarchy and misogyny but one we know millions of young women are committed to; together we will overcome.
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Words by @AngOBB