Today is Human Rights Day. On this day in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was born, declaring inalienable rights we all have as human beings. These are basic rights and freedoms that every person in the world is be entitled to. Now, 71 years on, the theme for 2019 is Youth Standing Up for Human Rights and for the past 16 days, girls and young women around the world have been doing just this.
We’ve seen thousands of girls and young women take action during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, an annual global campaign which calls for an end to violence against women and girls. In the run up to Human Rights Day, girls and young women have been speaking out about violence and calling for this to end once and for all.
Gender-based violence can include many things, such as partner violence, online violence, sexual harassment and assault and are a major violation of an individual’s human rights. It’s something Girl Guides and Girl Scouts across the globe have been talking about too.
The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) is the largest movement of girls in the world working with 10 million girls in 150 countries. In 2017, it found that of 7000 young people who responded to its poll, 70 per cent said the streets are the most unsafe place to be a girl. As part of the 16 days of action, WAGGGS launched its #OurStreetsToo campaign centered around street harassment and public safety. WAGGGS is demanding that all women and girls are safe from harassment and physical violence in the streets, and are calling on governments and leaders around the world to pass laws criminalising street harassment.
Street harassment is a major problem for women and girls as it can severely impact their lives and is often overlooked. Only a few countries have legislation to deal with this, which means millions of women and girls across the world go about their everyday lives without any protection in law. No girl or woman should feel unsafe or experience harassment in the streets. These are our streets too.
As an MSYP, I represent Girlguiding Scotland members in the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) – the democratically elected voice of Scotland’s youth. I know we can do more in Scotland to tackle this issue and at the last SYP national sitting I proposed a motion calling for more action to tackle sexual harassment on public transport.
This was after I had found out that 19 per cent of girls aged 13 to 25, surveyed for Girlguiding Scotland’s Girls in Scotland research, had experienced sexual harassment on public transport. This statistic is shocking as no one should ever have to experience this. I wanted to try to make a difference, even a small one, to the lives of many women and girls affected in Scotland.
The motion passed by 96 per cent, meaning it became SYP policy. I hope to build on this work and continue to call for action on this extremely important issue from influential politicians and service providers.
I put forward this motion because when girls and young women around the world stand up for women’s rights we drive the change needed for a more gender equal future. Ending discrimination, reaching equality, and ensuring girls and women can participate fairly and safely in public life, are at the very core of our human rights. But we need all girls to know what their human rights are and why they matter.
I’m proud to be part of Girlguiding, which gives girls from the age of seven the opportunity to learn about their human rights through working towards specific badges. One of my favourite badges for older girls is the Women’s Rights badge. This encourages girls to think about the importance of different moments in history for women’s rights, to discuss current issues that women and girls face, and to create their own women’s rights manifesto as creatively as they can. This helps girls to learn about their rights and also to become more involved with important issues facing girls and women in our society.
It’s important to remember children’s rights too, outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The UNCRC is key to ensuring that children’s human rights are respected. After campaigning from many charities and groups across Scotland, including Girlguiding Scotland and SYP, the Scottish Government announced this year that the UNCRC will be incorporated into Scots law.
So what’s my take home message for Human Rights Day 2019? It’s that we can only uphold human rights when we uphold the rights of women and children. Because when we protect human rights for all, everyone benefits. How do we do this? Listen to young people, listen to girls and listen to young women. We give them the space to take part in decision making and empower them to know their rights and how to claim them. Young people are the drivers of change and it’s time we gave them the keys.
Sophie Reid, Girlguiding Scotland member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP).