Advocating for girls on the world stage

Posted on Sunday, October 22, 2017

A man and two women stand in front of the flags of a dozen countries, including Canada.

Championing girls’ rights at the United Nations in New York (from left): Marc-André Blanchard, permanent representative of Canada to the UN; Maryam Monsef, Canada’s minister of status of women; and Natasha Harris-Harb, a fourth-year student at the Faculty of Social Sciences majoring in international development with a minor in women's studies.

By Natasha Harris-Harb

For two days in October 2017, I had the privilege of spending time with Canada’s representatives to the United Nations.

How did a fourth-year uOttawa student get to become part of Canada’s permanent mission to the UN?

I was selected to take part in Plan International Canada’s Girls Belong Here initiative. On October 11, to mark the International Day of the Girl, 500 girls and young women around the world stepped into their dream jobs. I stepped into the role of ambassador of Canada to the United Nations.

Three women and a man sit at a meeting room table, with the flags of Canada and the United Nations behind them.

On the International Day of the Girl, I took part in a discussion on the importance of recognizing girls as agents of change and partnering with organizations committed to creating a better future for girls globally. I’m pictured here with Maryam Monsef, Marc-André Blanchard and Louise Blais, deputy permanent representative of Canada to the UN.

Natasha Harris-Harb sits beside Maryam Monsef in a UN meeting room.

I attended the powerful Girls Speak Out event at the UN, which amplified the stories of girls from diverse backgrounds. I met such extraordinary girls and young women, and came away feeling truly optimistic about their future.

Natasha Harris-Harb stands at a podium, with Maryam Monsef and Nora Fyles looking on and applauding.

I gave the closing remarks at Plan International’s high-level event, Free to Dream, Free to Lead: Ensuring Adolescent Girls’ Rights in Emergencies. I urged policy-makers and change-makers to listen to the voices of girls worldwide. Canadian Nora Fyles, director of the secretariat for the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, sits beside Maryam Monsef.

A UN committee room, from the perspective of someone sitting in Canada’s chair. The text of a speech is on the desk.

I delivered a statement on behalf of Canada on the rights of Indigenous people at the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

Four young women stand in front of a Plan International poster for the “Because I Am a Girl” campaign.

I had the opportunity to meet many other girls’ rights advocates, including Ayah from Syria, and Yrlane and Luiza from Brazil.

Canada has a strong team at the UN and is a key player in the discussions on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Seeing diplomacy in action has reaffirmed my goal of spending my life advocating for girls' rights and working at the UN.

My main takeaway from this inspiring experience: Not only do girls belong in positions of leadership, but all girls — no matter their race, class, gender or ability — can flourish when given the opportunity.

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