Everyone should act for the future of girls

Created 12 October 2020

The sixth edition of the International Day of the Girl Child Conference held with the support of Aydın Doğan Foundation and UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women under the theme “Being an Adolescent Girl in a Changing World”, was broadcasted live from the studio established in the Doğan Holding building.

As part of the conference, journalist Melis Alphan moderated a panel with the title "How do the pandemics and climate change affect adolescent girls?” Turkish scientist Betül Kacar, who works as Assistant Professor of NASA Astrobiology at University of Arizona, said “Protecting girls who have less resources than boys will not be the 'old normal' in the coming days. For this, we should work with education professionals and create opportunities for girls as well as providing them with a childhood that they are respected.” She also addressed to girls: “Seek knowledge, obtain it or create it.”

The sixth International Day of the Girl Child Conference, aiming to address gendered challenges that women and girls are facing in Turkey was held under the theme “Being an Adolescent Girl in a Changing World”. The main speaker of the conference, chaired by actress and UNFPA ambassador for Turkey Hazal Kaya, was young climate activist Luisa Neubauer who has gained global attention with her climate activism and striking commentary. Luisa, who was connected to the conference from Germany, told that she was lucky to be born in a prosperous country and when she was young, she was told that if she worked hard enough, learned enough, did her homeworks and her tasks, she could become anything she wanted but no one has told her about the climate crisis.

"Seeing our future taken away from us made me angry"

Luisa Neubauer said, “Learning about the climate crisis changed everything for me. It also unraveled that lie that I was living with, that lie about the future possibilities I would have. It's not just a matter of being right or wrong, regarding climate crisis, but there is also a huge gender gap and gender distinction. Girls face inequalities worldwide and it makes it impossible for girls like me to grow up in a free world. When I learned about the climate crisis and understood that my future was taken away from me while my parents say 'I could be anything', I got angry. It made me see that the world is an unfair place. It took away that sentiment of safety that I had as a privileged young girl that I was growing up. It was like my safe harbour was taken away from me. I was so angry that eventually I started to organize about my future in Germany, later in Europe, and now worldwide. It is disrespectful to keep on going like before while glorifying the speeches of the girls, their actions, their organisation against climate change. It's not enough just to say nice things or to share some beautiful photos! Respecting what girls have accomplished means standing up and acting. Only action will save us. On the International Day of the Girl Child, the question I want to ask is not only what should be the role of girls but what should be the role of everyone else. If you truly want to respect what girls around the world are doing, you start organizing, you start doing whatever you can to make the future of all those girls a safe one and a lucky one.”

Vuslat Doğan Sabancı: "Despite the pandemic, let’s never give up simply taking huge strides."

Vuslat Doğan Sabancı, Vice Chair of the Board for the Aydın Doğan Foundation, in her speech at the conference remarked that violence and sexual abuse against women and girls have increased during pandemic, and women and girls who work as housekeeper and caregiver with less earnings and without social security are impacted more by the crisis. Emphasizing that the common goal of the Aydın Doğan Foundation and its stakeholders is a world without discrimination, exclusion and violence against girls, Sabancı said, “Even though there may be obstacles we encounter while trying to achieve this goal due to the pandemic, let's not forget that this is a marathon and let’s never give up simply taking huge strides.Education, especially that of young girls, has been one of the main priorities of Aydın Doğan Foundation since its establishment. We believe that we contribute to Turkey’s economy and also ensure the social participation of young girls as productive individuals. We support and will continue to support morally and financially young girls not only during their education; but also after their education. We, as Doğan Family and Doğan Group, see our contributions in the field of education as an expression of our debt of gratitude.”

UNICEF: “Girls have an equal say in the decisions that affect their future…”

“While noting the adverse impacts of climate change and Covid-19 on girls, let us remember that girls can – and do – play an important role in overcoming these challenges, and that we must include, involve, and engage them as part of the solution to the problems that we face. We must ensure that all girls have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives, their health, their environment and their future,” said Nona Zicherman, Deputy Representative at UNICEF Turkey.

UN Women: “If we want to achieve the SDGs, we need to take big bold steps.”

“I am firmly convinced that unless we harness the ideas, the talents, the energy of young people, and particularly of young women and girls, we will not be able to deal with the challenges of today and we will not realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If we want to achieve the SDGs by 2030, we need to accelerate progress and take big bold steps.” said Asya Varbanova, the Country Director of UN Women Turkey.

UNFPA: “Public and private sectors, non-governmental organizations, influencers and society must join hands...”

Zeynep Başarankut Kan, UNFPA Turkey Assistant Representative reminding that gender inequalities have been deepening as poverty and violence increase during pandemic and crisis times, and that women and girls were affected the most. She underlined that according to the UNFPA projections, lockdowns and economic problems due to the pandemic may cause 13 million more child marriages in the next 10 years. On the other hand, a 6-month quarantine may result in 41 million additional cases of violence. Kan: “It is very important to be aware of these sometimes invisible risks that girls face, especially in times of crisis, and to carry out special measures accordingly. The public and private sector, civil society, celebrities, influencers and society itself must work together. We should leave no one behind.”

Role model women and professionals addressed to young people

As part of the conference, journalist Melis Alphan moderated a panel with the title "How do the pandemics and climate change affect adolescent girls?” Turkish scientist Betül Kacar, who works as Assistant Professor of NASA Astrobiology at University of Arizona, said “Protecting girls who have less resources than boys will not be the 'old normal' in the coming days. For this, we should work with education professionals and create opportunities for girls as well as providing them with a childhood that they are respected.” She also addressed to girls: “Seek knowledge, obtain it or create it,”

Social Pediatrician Prof. Dr. Betül Ulukol from Ankara University, stating that gender perception makes girls more vulnerable in the face of the crises, said: “Beyond this vulnerability, girls have such great powers that, with a little interest and compassion they can turn into beings that can re-establish the world. Childhood bears great potential and as adults we have to use this potential. For the future of these children, we need to provide them sources of inspiration, the presence of someone who can truly become role models is really valuable.”

Annie Griffiths, a photographer known for her work at National Geographic who also strives to empower girls and women in developing countries, took part in the conference and said: “Girls are the best investment we can make for the future. They are changing the world, so we must give them the opportunity and ensure that they are educated. Educated girls have a better life, get married later, their families do better, and they also achieve economic independence, which is essential. Educated girls lift a country, they lift the world. For this, I want to call out to young girls: Fight for your right to be educated, get angry, and explain to whoever is standing on your way that this is gonna be good for them too. Don't stop learning, keep reading. Use your creative potential… Find at least one person who believes in you and of course be each other's best friend as women!

Sociologist Dr. Amber Fletcher, studying how gender and social inequality shape the experience of climate change in Canada, stated that disasters also have gender, and continued: “Girls and boys whose lives are structured differently are affected differently by the climate crisis. Even in Canada, the women I interviewed, talked about the difficulties of raising children during a severe drought. These are actionable and not inevitable. Young women want justice, they hold their own governments accountable, because every day barriers must be broken."

Young people told about how they imagined the world

Şeyma Nur Sağınç, Muhammet Rüştü Aktaş, Selin Gören and Dağlar Çilingir took part at the panel with the title “The world we imagine – Youth discussing how they would like to change the world” moderated by Gözde Atasoy Kökçü. Young people from different parts of the world, via video messages, made their voices heard. Şeyma Nur Sağınç, who is receiving an achievement scholarship from Aydın Doğan Foundation and takes an active role in social projects against global climate change said: “I wanted to change the course and set an example for other girls.” Şeyma also talked about the Butterfly Effect and 2 Degree projects, which are carried out under the umbrella of the Aydın Doğan Foundation. Şeyma described the future she wishes to live as follows: “I want to live in a healthy and balanced environment. In a colorful, equal, sustainable environment..."

Muhammet Rüştü Aktaş, working as the Project Coordinator at the Child Rights Volunteers Association, focusing on children's rights and child participation, called out to young people to "Think free, feel free", emphasizing the importance of creating an environment where children can express themselves more comfortably and adults respecting them.

In her speech, Yale University students and climate activist at Fridays for Future Turkey, Selin Gören gave examples from a dystopian scenario, saying "As young people, we are aware of a crisis and for our future we should intervene to end this scenario. There are thousands of young people in the world and in Turkey who are aware of this fact. As Fridays for Future, we organized 6 global events. However, the efforts of young people are not enough, we need people from all professions to use their competencies and experiences to come over this crisis ”.

Young people and children published a statement declaring their requests

111 children and youth who have been working on the effects of 'Climate Change' and 'Global Epidemics' on girls and women since June, published a statement, including their thoughts, criticisms and suggestions. The statement emphasizes that the social awareness must be improved in order to strengthen the efforts against climate change, and suggests the subject to be included in the compulsory education curriculum. The statement also states that all institutions and organizations are expected to work more effectively in order to ensure climate justice, and continues as follows: “We want ensuring educational equity and access to education for all, and providing education based on latest scientific knowledge. We believe that families should be informed and supported so that girls that are not sent to school, child workers and all children and young people having educational difficulties during the epidemic are not left out of education. All children and young people, whether they are refugees or not, whether they have any disabilities or not, those forced to work at a child age, those married at a child age, girls or boys, should be listened to and their needs should be heard. Only then, a fair, more equal and more sustainable life can be achieved.”