The First African Girl Summit took place from 26-27 November 2015 in Lusaka, Zambia,We were there - in this statement we've put together our thoughts on some key questions: How far were young people really engaged with? Were they able to make a difference? And most importantly - what comes next?
The first African Girl Summit was an amazing event, bringing together policy makers, traditional leaders, civil society and young people in the fight to end child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) and female genital mutilation (FGM). Each day there was open and closed in plenary with high level panel discussions. Then during the day were technical workshops on specific issues led by different organisations. A rapporteur in from each session fed back to in the plenary session to the whole summit.
So were young people able to engage?
It was great to see a large number of young people present at the summit, the majority Zambian due to the location of the summit, but there was definitely a cohort from across the continent. What was really great was even before the summit started the AU and partners including Girls Not Brides and Youth For Change organised preparation workshops for youth delegates to give them time to share, learn and prepare a coordinated response to the summit. This was a brilliant space and created a great sense of unity between youth delegates which was evident through the summit.
The AU Youth Division has done a great job at securing a space for young people during the summit – The Youth Pavilion. This was a safe space for youth delegates to connect, network, meet decision makers and relax. It was here that youth delegates were able to meet the Zambian President and the AU Goodwill Ambassador for ending child marriage.
During the summit young people were able to secure spaces on a number of platforms to share their experience, insights and recommendations. A highlight was the Voices of Youth parallel session led by Youth Delegates from over 5 different countries. The session brought to life the impacts of these harmful practices on the lives of young women, girls and boys as well as the ability of young people to effectively break the cycle of such harmful traditions within their own communities and countries. This strong performance by the young people was followed by a rush of hands going up in the audience committing to support for young people in fighting these issues.
When the closing plenary came is was great to see the AU Youth division had again been able to secure space for a youth delegate to present a youth outcome statement, a document that drew together their thinking and recommendations for the summit developed during the training days
So was it meaningful?
As with any high level summit or influence event there is always a chance that young people engagement is tokenistic and is rather for show than a real opportunity for young people to influence. At the African Girl Summit there were elements of tokenism – with young people not being given space to speak freely and slightly pushed to the margins – however overall the youth delegates made sure that any space they were given or could find, they took full advantage of and made their voices heard.
So what next?
This is what really matters and what really makes the engagement of youth delegates effective. It is keeping those connections made during the summit, putting learning into practice and pursing those government and organisations that made commitments that counts.
Whether you were there or not please, read the outcome statements, responses from organisation and blogs from the summit and use this information to drive forward our work – whether that is in a community or by lobbying in your government.