Two young girls took over the roles of Foreign Affairs minister Sophie Wilmès and Meryame Kitir, federal minister of Development Cooperation and Metropolitan Policy, to draw attention to girls’ rights worldwide.
In light of the International Day of the Girl on 11 October, children’s rights organisation Plan International Belgium organised a “Girls’ Takeover” allowing activists Margaux (24) and Louise (20) to take over from two female ministers.
“This has an enormous symbolic value: by having two girls take over the positions of two ministers, we are showing everyone that girls should be in leadership positions,” said Jorn Vennekens, spokesperson at Plan International Belgium.
“Furthermore, by working together with these ministers, we are in touch with the two people that have the power to actually change policy and give the necessary attention to girls’ rights worldwide,” he added.
Margaux, who when taking over from Kitir, opened an international conference on access to education, concurred that girls’ rights must be a priority on the international agenda, but stressed that this must include all girls.
“We all have the same potential, but not always the same opportunities. That has to change,” she said.
The problems regarding inequality in the opportunities that are given to girls, especially on matters of education, were also highlighted by Kitir.
“Unfortunately, it is still the case that girls have fewer opportunities for work or education,” she said.
Louise, who took over Wilmès’ role for a day, spoke during the Council of Ministers, making her the first person to do so, and opened an international conference on the future of Europe.
Both Kitir and Wilmès were the first women to take on their respective roles in Belgium, which Plan International says indicates a promising future for girls’ rights. However, the organisation stressed that although more chances are being offered to girls in certain parts of the world, others continue to struggle.
“Every year, some 12 million girls are married off before their 18th birthday, and about 12 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth every year after a teenage pregnancy – which is also the main cause of death among girls in that age group,” a press release from the organisation stated.
The organisation also stressed that girls are at greater risk of suffering the consequences of certain crises, including climate change and the ongoing pandemic, which saw many girls unable to attend school, with some 20 million thought to be prevented from returning.
“Although attention to girls’ rights has increased in recent years, today they are increasingly under pressure,” said Vennekens.
The “Girls’ Takeover” is in line with Plan International’s ethos to put young people at the centre of any policy-making that affects them.
Vennekens said that girls and young people more broadly are being involved in policy decisions, but “often solely related to youth policies.”
“They should be involved in topics like city development and even international solidarity. Furthermore, participation is limited to youth councils on the city level – we advise the government to work together with schools to have more representative input from youth and girls specifically,” Vennekens added.
A recent study conducted by Plan International Belgium and Enabel showed that young people want to be asked for their input when it comes to tackling international challenges, but that they felt their views were overlooked.
“The Belgian Government can take a leading position on the international scene by involving young people in global initiatives. We should have more young people speaking in places like the United Nations and the European Union,” Vennekens said.