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International Day of the Girl Child 2021: Technology and innovation as accelerators of girls’ bodily autonomy

Led by the Lao Youth Union, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in collaboration with Plan International, Save the Children International (SCI), Population Services International (PSI), and other partners, the International Day of the Girl Child was celebrated under the theme Digital Generation: Technology and innovation as accelerators of girls’ bodily autonomy.

Speaking at the event, Secretary General of Lao Youth Union Alounxai Sounnalath extended his appreciation to all sectors working in adolescent and youth development. “I’d like to call for strengthening the investment in adolescent and youth, especially adolescent girls by integrating the National Youth and Adolescent Development Strategy into the National Socio-economic Development Plan (NSEDP), sectoral plans, and international development programmes.”

The theme highlights how digital technologies can improve or undermine girls’ bodily autonomy and decision-making over their lives. Digital technologies can make information and services easier for girls, including seeking opportunities, developing peer networks, achieving personal fulfillment, and the potential for inclusion. Yet, there are growing negative aspects, ranging from unequal access to technology to addiction, online bullying and violence.

This year ‘Noi,’ the adolescent girl representing over 700,000 adolescent girls aged 10 – 19 years in Laos turns 15. The event gathered government, development partners, civil society, donors, and the private sector to review the joint progress made under the Noi Framework and the Noi Ecosystem.

UNFPA Country Representative for the Lao PDR Mariam A. Khan said when “girls have the power to make decisions over their bodies and their lives, we can achieve universal sexual and reproductive health rights, and gender equality. New ways for protecting and investing in adolescents are required. They have been out of school for over a year and are facing new challenges including psychosocial concerns, limited or no access to education, others are addicted to being online and exposed to new dangers.” She congratulated the Lao Youth Union for the first-ever National Youth and Adolescent Development Strategy. She said, “protecting youth especially girls during COVID-19 pandemic requires all sectors to adapt, collaborate and respond to the needs of youth for wellbeing, learning, protection, and societal participation.”

Progress on empowering adolescents and youth in Laos includes in-school system strengthening through integrating Phed Suk Sa into the national curriculum. While out of school Nang Noi Girls Groups for adolescent girls has over 300 mentors providing essential life skills to 5,000 adolescent girls. Innovation due to COVID-19 pandemic, UNFPA and partners deployed the Noi Yakhoo Mobile App and helplines to provide youth counseling services, while CSE was delivered through online platforms. Telehealth is being scaled up and Khangpanya Lao online teaching and learning platform for children and adolescents includes CSE.

Plan International Country Director Soumya Guha referred to the State of World Girls Report to highlight that “girls want to be educated in digital literacy”. They need to be able to express what is true to stay safe and feel safe to share their views. And being safe online, all young people need to be able to question information before they believe and share it.”

One of the Nang Noi Girls’ Group (NNGG) Mentor, Miss Saifon, 17 years old from Houay Kor village in Oudomxay province, sharing her experience as a Mentor, said, “I have learned communications skills which increased my confidence to speak up. I also learned how to plan for my daily life, and I will share the lessons I learned with my peers in my community so that they can adapt into their daily lives too!”

Miss Phare Phiwphachanh, an 18-year-old schoolgirl, who is one of Plan International’s Student Club’s members from Oudomxay province, shared that she learned to surf the internet, and that is very useful during the pandemic to submit her assignments via social media platforms. She said: “The internet plays an important role for us to explore the world. It can change unclear and harmful mindsets. If there could be a local application for English self-learning available, it would be great. It would allow us to access more information and knowledge in English.”

The keynote speakers from relevant sectors updated the progress through the five Noi framework indicators aligned with the SDGs on health and well-being, zero hunger, education, gender equality and decent job and economic growth. The event was conducted in a Covid-19 responsive hybrid format. Representatives participated online from ministries and mass organizations, NGOs, CSOs, and development partners. In the afternoon, youth-led activities were virtually organized through Facebook live streaming, where young people shared their views, played games and performed cultural activities with online participation of adolescents and young people from different provinces.

Source: Lao News Agency