Régine Debrabandere of Plan International Belgium on the success of BruxELLES, a collaborative project with Canon Europe launched to explore SDG5 on gender equality, which has captured political attention and offered young people a voice

Last year, the BruxELLES project was launched in Belgium: a creative partnership on gender (SDG 5) between NGO Plan International Belgium and Canon Europe. Through photography, 14 youth activists of Plan International Belgium broke the taboo around sexual harassment and shared their recommendations with the Brussels Regional Parliament for tackling sexual harassment on the streets and public transportation.

At 15, Greta Thunberg stood outside the Swedish Parliament to protest climate change, highlighting the need for immediate action and demanding change. Since then she has spoken at the UN, been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and has inspired millions of young activists around the world to stand up for the causes they believe in – ultimately highlighting the power that young people have to make a real change.

Such youth activism was at the heart of the Plan International Belgium and Canon Europe project. With the aim of exploring the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on gender, the BruxELLES project worked with 14 young people by empowering them to creatively express their own views on an issue that they experience every day: sexual harassment in public spaces.

The photos were so inspiring that the Brussels parliament invited the young activists to share their ideas and make recommendations

In a recent survey, Plan International UK found that that 66% of girls aged 14-21 had experienced unwanted sexual attention or contact in public. Through campaigns such as the “MeToo” movement, the spotlight is firmly fixed on the issues faced by women. As an NGO, we work daily to defend children's rights and promote equality for girls worldwide. Through working with young people, we promote gender equality and raise awareness of the issue among the general public.

The BruxELLES project was launched in association with Canon’s Young People Programme, which works to explore the UN’s SDGs by giving young people between the age of 13 and 18 a voice to drive change through the power of positive storytelling and photography.

Over the course of a year, the project saw the 14 young activists take part in monthly workshops on gender-related topics. Through our partnership with Canon, participants were provided with their own professional camera to capture their experiences and those of their peers on the topic of sexual harassment in Brussels. Coached by Canon Ambassadors Bieke Depoorter and Mashid Mohadjerin, the youngsters refined their photography skills and focused not only on the challenges they faced, but also on the solutions to these problems.

BruxELLES participants were given professional cameras to capture their experiences. (Credit: Canon Europe)

The photographs taken by the participants were shown for the first time on 10 October last year, a day before the International Day of the Girl. During the photo exhibition, the young activists asked other young people, political leaders and adults to listen to the issues they’d raised and take action. The day was a success: the photos were so inspiring that the Brussels parliament invited the young activists to share their ideas during another presentation day and make recommendations for the future of the capital.

In order to develop concrete recommendations, the young activists from Plan International Belgium took over the French-speaking parliament for a full day. There, they discussed the topic of sexual harassment with 100 other young people from Brussels, policymakers, and experts on gender issues.

The young people on the BruxELLES project learned how important their voice can be in making a difference

After receiving these recommendations, two Brussels MPs took the initiative to work out a resolution, which was unanimously passed on 19 April by the Brussels Regional Parliament after a year of exchanges, proposals and debate. The recommendations range from launching an awareness campaign, to concrete tips on how a person can respond if they witness sexual harassment. In collaboration with STIB, the public transport company in Brussels, there will also be a campaign focused on tackling sexual harassment on public transport. It is the first crucial step in the realisation of youth participation and gender equality.

Across the world, young people are continuing to shed light on issues that will affect future generations. Not only did the young people on the BruxELLES project drive powerful change within their community, but they also learned how important their voice can be in making a difference. Due to the success of the programme, we have decided to expand the project next year and set up similar initiatives in other European countries to encourage more young people to stand up for what they believe in and fight for change.

Régine Debrabandere is National Director of Plan International Belgium. For more information on the BruxELLES project, cilck here.

Main picture credit: Canon
SDG5  youth activism  Canon Europe  Greta Thunberg 

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