|© UNICEF Mozambique/2008/Yeo|
|Denise Milice, 16, founder of a youth-empowerment group in Mozambique, was in New York for the 2008 session of the Commission on the Status of Women.|
By Sonia Yeo
NEW YORK, USA, 17 March 2008 – The 52nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which concluded recently in New York, could have been just another annual gathering at the United Nations where ambitious commitments are made but soon forgotten – until the next meeting, when they are made yet again.
Denise Milice, 16, from Mozambique, tells a different story. She came to New York for the first time last year to participate in the 51st session of the Commission, which focused on the theme of eliminating discrimination and violence against the girl child.
At the meeting, Denise was selected as one of the recipients of a $100 grant by the Grail, an international non-governmental organization, to start a ‘back-home project’. The grant was made possible through the Mary Purcell Grant Task Force of the Working Group on Girls, part of the NGO Committee on UNICEF, which also paid for her trip to the Commission.
She was subsequently invited back to New York to the 52nd session of the Commission to report on the past year’s accomplishments.
‘I have to break the silence’
“It was a good incentive, I think,” says Denise. “Without this $100 I would go back to Mozambique and sit. But with that $100 I took my head and said, yeah, I have to do something. I have to break the silence.”
Denise’s project was to start a youth organization providing girls and boys with training and skills that would empower them to make informed decisions about reproductive health, support them psychosocially and help them become leaders in the fight to end discrimination and violence against girls.
So far, the project has reached 45 girls and boys from schools in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo. It is expected to continue over the next year and expand to other suburbs.
Young people need better information
One day, Denise ran into her cousin, a former member of the youth organization, and saw that she had a growing belly. Early pregnancy is one of the themes discussed by the group, and Denise was dismayed.
“When you meet someone who has the basic education and is part of a cohesive group that talked about relevant issues such as early and unwanted pregnancy, it’s really shocking and saddening,” she says. “You start to notice that the work you’ve done isn’t effective. We start questioning where we failed.”
Denise wonders if conversations about sexuality are being broached correctly.
“Maybe we should opt to give [adolescents] all the information and then allow them to make their own choices,” she says. “Maybe we have to work from young people to young people.”
Involving boys and parents
Denise makes a point of involving boys in her group’s training sessions. “Last year I learned that we can’t talk about empowering girls only with girls. We must involve the boys and men in this process,” she says.
Parents are supportive of the programme, she notes, because they often find it challenging to talk to their children about certain topics.
“Parents complain that they want to talk with their children, but sometimes they don’t know how to start,” says Denise. “In our programme we emphasize the importance of the relationship between parents and their children. When we have a good dialogue, I think that is better.”
14 March 2008: Denise Milice, 16, talks to UNICEF Radio about the youth-empowerment group she founded in Mozambique.