In the morning, over 600 young people met with the six activists. Memory Banda, campaigner against child marriage from Malawi, indigenous rights defender Hamangai Pataxo from Brazil, Rebecca Kabuo from the Democratic Republic of Congo who fights for good governance, and Amy and Ella Meek from the United Kingdom who have created an innovative campaign against plastic pollution, came to Geneva to take part in the Summit. They were joined by guest of honour Nadia Murad, the Iraqi Yazidi woman who has already won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign against sexual violence. The aim: to show by example how young women really can change the world, to share experiences, to empower these inspirational young activists with knowledge, technical tools and expert networks, and to enhance their visibility.
In the evening, an award ceremony took place in the highly symbolic Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room in the Palais des Nations in Geneva, to celebrate Nadia, Memory, Amy & Ella, Hamangaí, and Rebecca for their dedication and hard work.
EU Ambassador Walter Stevens welcomed the young and inspiring minds and activists from all around the world to celebrate Human Rights Day: “The six of you represent a strong, global movement of youth that is driving progress around the world, in all areas. Our youth is our most precious resource. You, together with so many youth leaders, have shown us the power of your voice, the power of peoples' voice, the power of civil society. We at the EU believe in the indispensable value of civil society to address the most pressing issues in our societies. We have always actively worked with civil society, to include them at the decision makers table. The EU views especially women and girls' participation as critical for inclusive, equal, and better societies.”
Among the inspiring activists was Nadia Murad, winner of the European Parliament Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the Nobel Peace Prize with her story: she was abducted by ISIS in Iraq at 21 and since her liberation has been fighting against sexual slavery, most vocally of fellow Yazidi women. Nadia's testimony as a survivor of the ISIS genocide shook the room: “We are still waiting for the return of at least 3,000 missing Yazidi women... We continue to live in fear. Real redress is yet to be provided.”
Likewise, Memory's story left the room speechless: Memory recalled the beginnings of the activism against early and forced marriages in her home country Malawi, when her younger sister was forced to marry the man that impregnated her at 11. Since, she has achieved to ban initiations camps in Malawi.
Sisters Amy & Ella from the UK are founders of the campaign and association “Kids Against Plastic” at their young age of 14 and 16: Their initiative has made schools, public institutions and businesses “plastic clever” by actively providing alternatives to plastics and awareness of a more sustainbale way of life and business cycle.
Hamangaí Pataxó from an indigenous tribe living in the Brazilian rainforest, is a 22 year old activist fighting for the rights of indigenous peoples and the protection of nature. With a strong voice, she spoke for her community and urged for collective action: “We need the rainforest to survive. Climate Change is affecting traditional societies and young people more than anyone else. You must engage with us! We need collective action!”
We were also moved by Rebecca Kabuo’s testimony and bravery: She is part of a Congolese youth movement in the DRC campaigning for respect for democracy and their Constitution. Despite being imprisoned and tortured at her young age, she bravely continued and continues the fight for a better society in DRC.
“We are committed to ensure that civil society and human rights defenders like these young leaders receive the support and protection in exercising their right to be heard. We relentlessly speak out against the shrinking civil society space and use political and financial action to support human rights defenders. I truly hope that we, the EU and the international community, can play our part in protecting you in exercising your tasks,” said EU Ambassador Stevens, addressing the outstanding activists.
The ceremony came to an end with a special surprise by Nadia for her fellow activists: even younger activists from Geneva handed out the awards for the 6 young women to showcase all our gratitude for their actions that reminded us on Human Rights Day that each and every one of us has the power to stand up for human rights and for what is personally important to us individually and collectively.