Achieving Gender Equality with Girls’ Take Over

Achieving Gender Equality with Girls’ Take Over

Tess got involved with Plan International’s 2017 Girls’ Take Over, to prove that girls plan an invaluable role in leadership positions around the world.

October 11th we took over the world. Quite literally. More than 600 girls across the globe stepped in the shoes of political, academic, business and community leaders. We celebrated International Day of the Girl by showcasing the strength, capacity and ability of girls. We are worth just as much as boys. And we are not putting up with gender inequality any longer.

I took over the position of the Belgian Minister of Development Cooperation. The point of the takeover was threefold: firstly, we intended to raise awareness about persisting gender inequality in politics. In the current federal government, only three ministers are women. Secondly, we needed to prove that women are just as capable to lead political divisions as men. The idea of politics being “a man’s world” is nothing but a self-fulfilling prophecy. Finally, we wanted to challenge stereotypes and strive for a better future for girls. We need young girls – and boys – to get used to the idea of women in leadership positions. We want both young girls and boys aspiring, and succeeding, to high positions.

Although the action was symbolic, I felt in power. I felt empowered. I now feel more confident and more at ease when speaking up. I finally realised I have something to say, and I have the right to be heard.

That was the most unexpected outcome for me; I never realised I could be empowered. After all, I am a white, middle-class young graduate with two highly educated parents. What chances have I not had in life? Although I’ve had a very fortunate upbringing, persisting gender stereotypes were somehow holding me back. Twenty-two years of traditional gender norms in school, the media and on the streets had made me believe my place could not be the spotlight. I wasn’t meant to be ambitious, I wasn’t meant to be heard. However, Girls’ Take Over, the wonderful support of Plan International Belgium employees and working with other youth activists changed that.

The Girls’ Take Over action was held in more than 50 countries. In many of these countries, girls’ empowerment is even more crucial to sustainable development. In Uganda, the rate of teen mothers is incredibly high. These women are often marginalised, the fathers not even expected to do their part. In Benin, many girls do not finish their education. In Colombia, sexual violence is commonplace in certain areas. As a Minister of Development Cooperation, I stressed the importance of gender sensitivity in all projects and programmes.

Feeling empowered myself, I am convinced the action made a big change in all countries. Not only for the girls who took over for one day, but also for all young girls watching the news or listening to the radio. We need more female role models. Furthermore, we desperately need men in high positions to treat these role models as equals. We need a world in which girls are fully supported in their journey to learn, lead, decide and thrive. Our action was a big step in the right direction.

Tess Vanacker is a 22 year old from Belgium. She studied political sciences and development studies, in two lovely Belgian cities: Ghent and Brussels. I am passionate about migration, youth and gender. I am currently doing an internship at FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations working with the homeless.

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