The recent Nobel Prize awarded to 17-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai should leave no doubt about the power adolescent girls can yield. The challenge however, is in harnessing that power, given that millions of girls live in poverty around the world and lack access to the supports that would allow them to live up to their potential as change-makers.
The Girl Declaration seeks to put these young women and their needs at the center of decision-making about international development. The Declaration asserts that “what happens to girls during adolescence, a critical period of physical, emotional and social change, shapes their future ability as leaders, earners, providers and mothers. When girls grow up healthy, educated, safe and empowered, they emerge as adults better able to ensure their own success and well-being, and that of others.”
Tapping more than 500 girls living in poverty in 14 countries, the Girl Declaration relied on a “bottom up” model to learn about the actual needs and wishes of young women. With the help of 25 of the world’s leading NGOs, girls in programs around the world were asked to share what they needed in order to reach their full potential.
The results were compiled into actionable recommendations, with the hope of persuading decision-makers to put girls at the center of the development agenda. From the declaration, “Adolescent girls are not part of just one issue, they are key to every sustainable solution.”
Advocates for Youth, a Washington, DC-based non-profit focused on the reproductive and sexual health of adolescents, is one of the global organizations committed to disseminating the Girl Declaration. Through their Our Moment Campaign, the organizations created with a series of materials– including buttons, a printed scarf and information cards– to spread the word about the initiative, and get the goals of the Girl Declaration into the hands of decision-makers, advocates and adolescent girls themselves.
Rosanna Dixon, Senior Manager of Social Innovation Design at Advocates for Youth, explained, “To make the goals of the Girl Declaration easy to communicate and unforgettable, I developed a visual system to convey these key areas via color and symbols.” The icons featured on the button designs were “inspired by the handwritten responses and drawings created by the girls who were consulted in the process of developing the Girl Declaration.”
The buttons and scarves were distributed to decision-makers at the United Nations, including at the Commission on the Status of Women in March, and to government officials and representatives from world governments, civic leaders and other stakeholders, as well as adolescents themselves. The materials were also used at events around Washington, DC, as well as at community events in the US and around the world.
The project is innovative in the way that it transforms abstract concepts into iconography that is not only more accessible, but also something that people actually want to engage with. “[Visuals] help to break down a complex topic and create interest,” Rosanna said. She added that having a wearable item paired with a printed card containing more concrete information “makes for a great team of materials.”
Advocates for Youth has created buttons for many of their past initiatives– Rosanna said that “the practical side is that they are inexpensive, they are an item that is worn so they will lend more visibility to our campaigns, and their size makes them easy to send to our activists all over the country and the world.” Buttons add color to tabling events, and “people love going through a bowl of them.” In addition, Rosanna explained that buttons are “dear to our activists staff because of their historical use” as the go-to item for progressive movements over the past century.
For the Our Moment campaign, buttons played an important role in making these abstract goals more accessible. Rosanna said, “It is very exciting for everyone who works on the campaign when they can hold a physical piece of the campaign in their hand and pin it to their chest for the world to see.”