There’s Power in Partnership

Soroptimist International works closely with many organisations to educate, empower and enable women and girls everywhere. In this latest blog, Marie-Christine Gries, SI Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and guest blogger, Martine Levy, representative of the World Association of Girl Guides and Scouts (WAGGGS) at UNESCO, explain the power of partnership in achieving mutual goals.

“At UNESCO, the issue of women is cross-cutting in all programmes and work topics. However, in order to work well with UNESCO on gender issues, it is necessary for the concerned Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to work together to make a meaningful and useful contribution, in particular, based on their respective experiences. So, we informally constituted a group of women’s NGOs present, and coordinated to assert their common point of view. When Martine Levy, representing WAGGGS, was the chairperson of the International Conference of NGOs and of the UNESCO-NGO Liaison Committee, and myself, wondering about the possibility of achieving the SDG 4 by 2030, opened a working trial with NGOs on the issue of girls, asking to celebrate the International Day of the Girl 2018 on ad hoc themes. We were immediately joined by Zonta International and then by other women’s organisations represented in Paris. And later, with 30 International NGO partners of UNESCO, we organised the celebration of the International Day of the Girl at UNESCO in 2018 and hoped for renewal in 2020.  Like many events, this renewal will be postponed in 2021 due to the pandemic”. – Marie Christine.

Martine Levy, WAGGGS representative to UNESCO, explains the importance of key focus areas for partnership: “Marie-Christine and I launched the celebration of World Menstrual Hygiene Day when, reading, in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) we saw that SDG 4 advocated quality education for all, we knew that, for 130 million girls it was not even a dream. Unrealisable, unreal. It was not until 2014, nearly 70 years after their creation, that the United Nations established this day to allow us to widely question the condition of women around the world and the problems related to their menstruations; knowing, remember it, that half of the world’s population is made up of women. World Menstrual Hygiene Day aims to break the silence, disseminate information to allow the community and more particularly the school community to communicate and discuss the improvement of menstrual hygiene management (MHM). And to challenge decision-makers in order to improve health infrastructures in the school environment in order to increase the school attendance of girls, their participation, and their retention in school, even during their menstruation. And also to break the taboo around the menstruations and ensure that each woman has access to hygienic protections.

Click the image to watch the official Menstrual Hygiene Day promotional video.

The working group ‘Voices of the girls’, made up of 30 international NGOs partners of UNESCO, including WAGGGS, which I represent at UNESCO, has, following the celebration of the International Day of the Girl of 2018, disseminated to NGOs but also to decision-makers, a manifesto where it is recommended that girls and boys receive a “comprehensive sexuality education” as advocated in 2018 by the United Nations and UNESCO to control fertility and to protect against sexually transmitted diseases. The 500 responses to the questionnaire that the group had launched around the world (national branches of NGOs) all went in the same direction: young girls who knew little or nothing about their bodies were subject to all possible violence, early pregnancies and dropping out of school. The pandemic has prevented us from continuing our work, but we will be celebrating the International Day of the Girl 2021 and ‘health’ will be one of the highlights of this celebration.

So, yes, let us train the young girls, let us inform them, let us inform their families, let us tell them that the subject is not taboo, let us inform young men: no it is not dirty: it is just physiological: it is the feminine nature: this is how pregnancies are possible. I would not have thought of making this plea if I had not seen on Facebook the multiple publications of my association, WAGGGS, via the President, the Director-General, and many member organisations from Africa, Latin America, etc … And I must say that I am very proud of it; however, upon reflection, this is normal; 10 million girls can make noise. I think that commitment is growing more and more year after year; it means that our Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, wherever they are in the world, have fully integrated the issue and that they intend to make a difference”.

Soroptimists across the globe are responding to the needs of their local communities to improve menstrual hygiene management. Last year, SI UN Representative in Nairobi, Mary Muia, attended the Fourth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 4) Side Event on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). The dialogue was organised by the Women’s Major Group (WMG), and co-hosted by Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF). Equipped with knowledge and evidence provided by SI grassroots projects, Mary was one of the event speakers. You can read more about this event, and Soroptimist projects relating to this topic HERE in Mary’s blog.

For more information on the implications of COVID-19 on menstrual hygiene management, including what action is needed during and after the pandemic , download the brilliant new infographic from WASH United, in collaboration with Global Menstrual Collective, ACMHM, Days For Girls, PSI, UNFPA, WaterAid and WSSCC.

There is still time to show your support for this year’s celebration of Menstrual Hygiene Day, visit the website to find out more.

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