June 27, 2018 by Anne Lescure
“Often in academia there is a lot of critique about empowerment models because of the fact that empowerment is seen as having to go with empowering someone to be able to have a voice. GNWP does not believe that, and that’s not what we do with the Girl Ambassadors for Peace. Instead, we believe the Girls all have voices and something to say, we just have to make the space for them to say it.” —Katrina Leclerc, GNWP’s Girl Ambassadors for Peace Program Coordinator
Earlier in June, the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2419 (2018) reaffirmed the belief that youth are not only the leaders of today but the crucial change-makers of tomorrow, especially in regard to the negotiation and implementation of peace agreements. Building on Resolution 2250 (2015), youth, peace and security makes it clear that peace will only be achieved if youth are included in decision-making, in peace processes and take ownership of these international agreements. More specifically, the resolution—and the supporting Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security which was developed by UNFPA, PBSO and the Office of the Envoy on Youth—emphasized the fact that young women cannot continue to be portrayed as victims of conflict but must be recognized as crucial contributors to peacebuilding. Young women across the world are working together for peace, their rights to participation must be respected and their voices ought to be heard.
Programs such as the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders’ Girl Ambassadors for Peace (GA4P) are key mechanisms to empower young women to become leaders and peacebuilders in their local communities. The Girl Ambassadors for Peace program, which is implemented in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh, does not resemble any other program on youth participation in peace processes. Katrina Leclerc, GNWP’s Girl Ambassadors for Peace Program Coordinator explains that the program’s uniqueness is twofold: 1) its demography, and 2) its empowerment model.
Indeed, as explained by Katrina “there are little amounts of projects that actually focus on young women and this age group.” Moreover, “the other big difference which attests to the success of the program is the concept of the ‘trainees’ where the Girl Ambassadors become ‘trainers’,” adds Katrina. The Girl Ambassadors for Peace program is implemented in local communities by the Girls themselves who become the filters for the information they have been given and act as the agents and ambassadors of peace in their own communities.
Prativa Khanal, GNWP’s Cora Weiss Fellow adds that the Girl Ambassadors for Peace is “not just a network of young women and girls, but it also helps to create networks with different UN agencies, civil society stakeholders and the security sector,” fostering partnerships in the implementation of Resolution 2250 (2015), 2419 (2018), 1325 (2000) and supporting resolutions.
Echoing Prativa’s comments, Rhoda Mae Kasil, a member of the Girl+ Ambassadors for Peace in the Philippines, underlines that the program is “also an avenue for the youth to engage not just with the members of their organization, but the Philippines as a whole.” Rhoda, who was recently elected as Karawad of Barangaay Baan Riverside, in the region of Butuan in the Philippines shares her experience as a Girl+ Ambassador for Peace and explains how her role empowered her to run for the local elections. Encouraging fellow young women to become active in politics, Rhoda says: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, set an example for others.”
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Please find below the transcript for Rhoda’s interview
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Hello, I am Rhoda Mae Kasil from the Philippines, a member of the Girl+ Ambassador for Peace, I am 24 years old. A teacher by profession, I am now connected in the people’s organization in my city as a volunteer which covers 8 communities and focusing on empowerment and providing different services. I am also representing the youth sector in different national and local mechanisms such as the national End the Poverty Commission, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Committee, the Police Regional office as a member of the Advisory Council. I am also a member of the Regional Youth Advisory Council and a convener of the Community Advocate for Empowerment of Survivors. I really love service people because I was once a beneficiary of such services offered in the community. I am a former sponsored child of the World Vision in the Philippines, so they paid for my tuition fees from elementary to college and enabled my empowerment me. I wish to replicate the empowerment to people, especially women and other vulnerable members of a community.
Thank you Rhoda, you are one busy woman! Can you give me a little background on your role as a Girl+ Ambassador for Peace and how long you have been involved with them.
It has been 4 months already as a Girl+ Ambassador for Peace because we were just created last February. It was a training attended by 28 young women from across the Philippines, representing academic institutions, civil society, local authorities, security sector and Indigenous people. The training paved the way for the creation of the Girl+ Ambassadors for Peace in the Philippines. This is a network composed of the women community leaders who attended the said training. This network is also an avenue for the youth to engage not just with the members of their organization but the Philippines as a whole in upholding the said principles through the use of social media.
We would now like to discuss your recent election as a Karawad of Barangaay Baan Riverside, in the region of Butuan in the Philippines. What motivated you to run in the local elections?
Actually, it’s the trust of the people that motivates me to run. They are pushing me to run even though sometimes we have doubt in ourselves, I admit that. The people in our community keeps on cheering me and always believing in me. I also wish to use my connections to share my knowledge on empowering women. I learned from the seminars and training I attend. Most importantly, I really want to serve people, especially in the grassroots. Their smiles are really priceless. I was actually motivated knowing that out of 25 candidates in our community, only 3 women ran. I finally decided to run because there should be a woman in the council.
What were the main challenges that you faced while running for the elections?
Sometimes, I think negatively. Since I am the youngest out of the 25 candidates, 7 of which will be given the opportunity to run. But during our caucuses I always let people know my favorite bible verse which really fits me, saying “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
As a newly elected councillor, what are your priorities and how do you wish to accomplish them? As the youngest local councillor, I am a women advocate, I want every woman in our community to be empowered, to know their rights and stand on their own. Although, the women in our community have already organized, I want to strengthen their effort so they can replicate it to other women, especially to the youngest ones, as they most need the guidance. I will provide capacity-building projects and have consultations every month to address their issue and concern. I want to accomplish something that is life changing for every woman, by touching their lives so they can see the difference.
Do you see possible allies in this fight? Men or women ? Specific organizations or other elected official that can help you put women’s rights at the forefront of your agenda?
I am working with the People’s Organization and I am involved in several local mechanisms and these connections can actually help in our locality to organize the grassroots—not only the women but the different sectors as well.
How can you most effectively transport the work you are doing at the local level to the national level and how can you most effectively localize the national policies on women’s rights. How does it work?
I think this is the most important question. It is in the local level that issues are rampants so as a local councillor I wish to urge the government in the city and national level to fund peacebuilding and have consultation on the ground in order to make sure they will provide resources for capacity-building project such as the workshops on peace education, gender equality and human rights to empower people from all sectors to participate, especially in the decision-making processes. It should be inclusive. By all means, I will localize all national policies to the grassroots. To motivate the national level, I will develop document that can be considered best practices in our community. I will lobby and bring our issues and concerns to the national level.
How will you be able to balance your role as a Girl+ Ambassador for Peace and a local councillor and how can the local council support the Girl+ Ambassador for Peace
Actually, the agenda of the Girl+ Ambassadors aligns with my agenda as a local councillor. It is so easy for me to balance my roles, because I will integrate the programs of the Girl+ Ambassadors for Peace in my work in the council. They are actually two opportunities feeding into each other.
What would be your advice for a young girl who would like to enter politics?
Politics is not easy. But if you really want to serve people, my advice for my fellow young women who want to fight for advocacy on women’s right, don’t let other people think you cannot do it . I will emphasize my favorite verse: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for others.” We should be an inspiration to all other even those once young, not just the young ones.