Learning Together, Inspiring Each Other: Regional Girl Ambassadors for Peace Training in Bangladesh and Indonesia
November 13, 2019 by Mallika Iyer
Edited by Mavic Cabrera Balleza
“I used to be like the moon, receiving light from only one star. I was focused only on my personal interests and education. After joining the Girl Ambassadors for Peace program, I have learned that women are empowered by so many international laws and capable of anything they set their minds to. I’m like the sun now. I can provide light to help other young women grow,” Elza, a young woman from Lamongan, East Java, Indonesia shared.
With support from NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders has created a strong network of 110 young women leaders in conflict situations and humanitarian emergencies in Bangladesh and Indonesia who support and inspire each other to realize their full potentials as leaders, peacebuilders, and change agents addressing peacebuilding and preventing and countering violent extremism in their communities. By promoting synergies between the Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS) and Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agendas, the Girl Ambassadors for Peace, a member of GNWP’s Young Women for Peace and Leadership (YWPL) program, has enhanced the leadership potential and peacebuilding skills of young women who, as significant actors in their local communities, contribute to an invincible youth movement for peace, equality, and sustainable development.
Between September 3 and 9, 2019, GNWP and its local partners organized a regional Girl Ambassadors for Peace (GA4P) training in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh to foster solidarity between young women leaders in Bangladesh and Indonesia. The training also facilitated information and experience-sharing of good practices and lessons learned in their efforts to advocate for the role of young women in peacebuilding and countering violent extremism in both countries and strengthened the regional youth network of young women peacebuilders.
Guided by expert advice and facilitation from GNWP Board Members Bandana Rana, CEDAW Committee Chair from Nepal, and Independent Senator Marilou McPhedran from Canada, the GA4P from Bangladesh and Indonesia who participated in the regional training compared and contrasted the peace and security situations in their countries and communities. They identified common issues such as the prevalence of early, forced, and child marriage, radical and violent extremist groups, and gender inequality perpetuated by social norms and antiquated laws.
Bangladesh has the second-highest the prevalence of early, forced, and child marriage in the world; similarly, Indonesia has approximately 1,459,000 child brides, the eighth highest absolute number of child brides in the world. Many of the GA4P in Bangladesh and Indonesia personally experience familial – or societally-induced – early, forced, and child marriage. “My parents hide my school bag and books in an effort to prevent me from going to school. They are forcing me to get married. That prompted me to run away from my home. Now that I am living alone, it is difficult for me to financially support myself and pay my school fees,” a GA4P from Bangladesh, shared during the regional training. In response, the GA4P from Indonesia drafted and distributed a statement condemning early, forced, and child marriage, as a fundamental violation of human rights, which denies girls their childhood, disrupts higher education, limits socio-economic opportunities, increases the risk of intimate partner violence, and threatens the health of girls and young women. During the regional training, the Indonesian GA4P shared their experiences in collecting signatures from prominent local youth and civil society organizations for the statement. They explained how they were able to effectively communicate their demands to district-level leaders such as the Regent and Vice-Regent of Poso, Central Sulawesi, and Lamongan, East Java, resulting in these leaders’ support for all effective and appropriate measures to abolish traditional practices, which permit or support early, forced, and child marriage.
During the regional training, the young women also discussed the importance of regional advocacy for gender-responsiveness to humanitarian emergencies such as the Rohingya crisis. Rohingya refugee women and girls in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh live in overcrowded and mismanaged camps, where they remain vulnerable to sexual violence, devastating floods, and cyclones. Indonesia too is reported to be hosting a population of 12,000 Rohingya refugees in Aceh, Sulawesi, and North Sumatra. Despite significant cultural and language barriers, Indonesians in small fishing communities in Aceh have been welcoming and sympathetic to the refugees, offering food, shelter, and other donations. However, as time has passed, humanitarian relief aid provided by international organizations and the Indonesian government has been depleted. Meanwhile, the number of reports of Rohingya refugees attempting to smuggle themselves to Indonesia and Malaysia in rickety fishing boats in order to escape the dire conditions in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh is steadily increasing. It has become clear that regional cooperation is necessary to address the treatment of the Rohingya people.
Local Bangladeshi women from host communities and Rohingya women and girl refugees living in refugee camps continue to face marginalization and discrimination as a result of the lack of access to education and other basic social services. To curb gender discrimination and improve access to education, the Bangladeshi GA4P have conducted 20 gender-sensitive, age-appropriate functional literacy and numeracy classes with over 180 women and girls. In addition to empowering Rohingya refugee and host community women to read and write, the literacy classes provided a safe space for Rohingya refugee women to share personal issues related to sexual violence in the camps (including intimate partner violence), child marriage, security concerns, and dowries. The GA4P in Bangladesh play a crucial role in dispelling anti-Rohingya rhetoric and negative perceptions developing within host communities as a result of unequal access to and competing demands for resources and social services. The young women work to create positive dialogues between the two communities, beginning with providing basic literacy and numeracy education to Rohingya refugee and Bangladeshi host community women in Cox’s Bazar.
The Indonesian young women observed their Bangladeshi counterparts as they facilitated a gender-sensitive, age-appropriate functional literacy and numeracy class with Rohingya refugee women and girls in Balukhali Refugee Camp (Camp 9). Inspired by the leadership and teaching skills of the Bangladeshi young women, the Indonesian GA4P committed to working together to develop joint advocacy strategies to support the empowerment of Rohingya refugee women and girls in both countries.
Ultimately, learning about the experiences of other young women leaders in similar yet different cultural, socio-political, and economic contexts during the regional training inspired and motivated the GA4P to further the youth-led advocacy movement for sustainable peace and development. The Girl Ambassadors for Peace are a strong and diverse regional network of young women who represent different religions and ethnic minorities. With enhanced capacities as leaders, peacebuilders, and change agents, the Girl Ambassadors for Peace continue to contribute to gender equality, sustainable development and inclusive and long-lasting peace in their local communities.
 https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/indonesia/, accessed 07-27-2019
 https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/indonesia/, accessed 07-27-2019