Blog of Marie-Christine Gries, SI UN Representative at UNESCO.
A Coalition to Make Girls’ Voices Heard
In 2015, Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 by 2030 seemed unlikely with 130 million children out of school, over 60% of whom were girls, excluded from the school curriculum (due to non-enrolment and dropping out).
At the initiative of Soroptimist and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girls Scouts, an NGO working group (mainly women’s or education NGOs) was formed to organise a celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child, instituted in 2011 by the UN. The aim of this celebration was to shine a spotlight on the specific issue of girls’ education and the obstacles that are raised in front of them to lead to the gap between girls and boys.
In 2018, the group is bringing its project to life at UNESCO. The focal point of the celebration was a compilation of very significant testimonies from 600 girls collected in some thirty countries (answers to the simple question: your dreams for the future, your discouraging problems). At the end of this first event the group published a manifesto and identifies itself under the name “Voix des Filles” to follow and renew its commitment.
After the suspension caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this crisis has taken its toll on education worldwide, doubling the number of children out of school! To relaunch its action, “Voix des Filles” decided to relocate to a particularly hard-hit region, with the same objective of using the celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child to sensitise decision-makers and the population to the specific problems of girls. The choice fell on Ivory Coast, which had already hosted a UNESCO NGO forum with the creation of a solid network of contacts, including at high level.
The relay was then passed on to the national branches of the partner NGOs, including, of course, the Ivoirian Soroptimists; it was extended to national NGOs, specialists in the field. After the visit to the ministries an ad-hoc authorities in Ivory Coast of Martine Levy and Marie-Christine Gries co-steering the group at UNESCO, the Ivorian group “Voix des Filles Côte d’Ivoire”, made up of some thirty NGOs, received UNESCO official sponsorship and the support of the National Commission for UNESCO and of the Ministry of the Family, Women and Children.
On 26 October 2023, an investiture ceremony for “Voix des Filles Côte d’Ivoire” took place in the commune of Agboville, presided over by the Minister for the Family and in the presence of a large audience, including administrators from public institutions, teachers and civil society figures. This was a symbolic starting point for the launch of projects to be developed by this group with the support of local decision-makers
Ivory Coast will institute an official annual celebration of the UN’s International Day of the Girl Child, hoping for an alignment with the celebration of Women’s Day, which has effectively contributed to advancing mentalities at all levels in the country, improving the vision of the role and capacities of women.
UNESCO 42nd General Conference
At UNESCO, this month, during the 42th session of the General Conference of Member States, the organisation of a parallel event was granted to “Voix des Filles” by the NGO Liaison Committee, in agreement with UNESCO’s partnership services. Marie-Christine Gries, Soroptimist representative, led the presentation to a full room, in the presence of the Permanent Ambassador of Ivory Coast at UNESCO and of the Secretary General of the Ivorian National Commission for UNESCO.
The work of “Voix des Filles” with UNESCO was chosen by the Liaison Committee for its overwhelming effectiveness – in particular, the concreate realisation of a project in an UNESCO programme area that has included national organisations within a Member State. Aligned with Sustainable Development Goal 17, which is concerned with strengthening the means of implementation and revitalising global partnerships for sustainable development, the achievements of “Voix des Filles” addresses a current focus of Member States and UNESCO.
Increasingly, grassroots cooperation is being recognised as an effective way to improve the implementation of UN programmes. We look forward to seeing what comes next from “Voix des Filles”.