Youth in action: Five young women’s voices on youth activism and solidarity

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While young people around the world face unique age-related challenges, they’re also drivers of solutions and advocates for change in their communities, their countries and on a global scale

On International Youth Day, we’ve asked young people around the world to tell us what matters to them, and why the solidarity between activists of all ages can create a just, equal and sustainable world for all.

On women with disabilities

“Women with disabilities tend to be the forgotten sisters in the gender equality fight. Women with disabilities comprise 10 per cent of all women in the world. In Mexico alone, 4 million women live with a disability. Usually we say we fight for all women, but when women with disabilities are not considered by creating accessible spaces and communications, when there is no representation of women with disabilities on the most urgent issues like gender violence and decision making spaces, then we are not fighting for ALL women. And the impact on them is huge.

We need to listen to women. And we need to listen to women of all contexts and identities. Having women´s right activists of all diversities and visions will help shape the path toward our goals. We are the ones who KNOW the issues (and the context) that have to be resolved. And we can create solutions together in solidarity. And to me, that is strategic and powerful.”

- Maryangel Garcia-Ramos Guadiana, Mexico

On digital access and the gender divide

“In 2016, internet access was declared a basic human right by the United Nations. The rise of the fourth industrial revolution has given birth of a new barrier of access for young women and girls: the gender digital divide.

Countries with marked gender disparities in education, income, political power and cultural norms inherently limit women’s online participation and as a result, render girls as voiceless. Equally, in some countries, because of the historical and systematic power given to men, patriarchy largely controls women’s access and participation to Information and Communication Technologies, which adversely limits young women’s contribution to the economy and reclaiming of their human rights.

Young people’s online participation is expected to increase in the developing world.This is an opportunity to ensure that every girl is a meaningful contributor to global conversations on gender equality and a decision-maker on what she deems to be the most effective ways to disrupt those systems that deliberately silence young women and girls.

As a second-generation self-identifying feminist, I believe that there is power in intergenerational organizing as we know that while the older generation may know the road, it is young people that will have the energy to continue dismantling gender-oppressive systems.

The Beijing Platform for Action is the baton that women’s rights activists can pass down to their daughters and grandsons to assist them in strategically linking the liberation of women to other struggles across race, class and sexuality. It is through this solidarity that spaces will be created for young women and girls to write themselves into history in their own voices.”

- Kgali Kedijang, South Africa

On child marriage

“Forced child marriage results in young women’s lives ending before they get a chance to start. Girls are required to drop out of school to stay home and practise “how to be a good wife”. Child marriage causes reproductive health risks, early pregnancy, as well as violence and exploitation. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty .

This brutal practice often leads to girls feeling powerless, preventing them from accessing healthcare, education and (reaching) their full potential. People can end this harmful practice by by asking the world leaders to pay attention to young victims and to give them a seat at the table where decisions are being made. Oppression cannot be fought without the power of community…We have to work together.

Today we live in a world where there is discrimination against women because of beliefs, traditions, and social norms. Global and universal gender equality is the cornerstone to establishing equality for all. Women as leaders will bring new ideas and stronger partnerships, as well as different perspectives and experiences, which will lead us in a positive direction for social change. A unified voice is a powerful voice for positive change.”

- Sonita Alizadeh , Afghanistan

On sexual and reproductive health and rights

“Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) education is a platform through which information, ways of thinking, and life-saving skills are acquired in a culturally-sensitive, medically-accurate, age-appropriate, non-judgmental and comprehensive manner. Young women, a group at the intersection of many inequalities, are often at higher risk of issues such as gender inequality, gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive violence, and lack of informed access to family planning services including abortion, all of which issues SRHR education aims to address and tackle.

I truly believe young people themselves are the solution. When thinking about products and services designed for young people, as the beneficiaries or carriers of the consequences, they should have the most say in what goes. They can be a part of the solution by demanding their voices are heard and taken seriously, and by inserting themselves in spaces of production, whether it be of ideas or physical products.

Solidarity matters because gender equality is not the realm or responsibility of one specific group of people, or of women. Solidarity allows for any matter to be tackled from a feminist, sex-positive, and intersectional perspective. This is especially critical when working on international policy, programmes and services, as a one-size-fits-all approach is more often than not, simply not effective. This is why it is not enough for only activists or non-governmental organizations to be in solidarity when it comes to gender equality; we need solidarity between the private sector and the public, policy makers and field workers, youth and elders, brands and influencers.

- Rayka Kumru, Turkey

On traditional patriarchal attitudes

“Prevalent patriarchal norms in Indian society dictate that girls should be Sarvgunn Sampanna (perfect, or having all the qualities to be successful in life). A Sarvgunn Sampanna girl is [expected to be] docile, looks after the house, takes care of her family and respects everybody’s wishes — she doesn’t speak up against anyone or argue. Due to the prevalence of this very traditional notion of what a “good girl’s” behaviour should be, most girls are restricted to an extremely narrow, rigid life path. For instance, even when girls are allowed to attend university, they are pressured to pursue their education via distance-learning, so that they can simultaneously focus on the upkeep of the household.

I think the first thing young people need to do to change this situation is to respect one another. Young people need to have frank conversations about gender, equality, sexuality, and to make a conscious effort to empathize with each other.

Everyone in our society, whether they are male or female, young or old, faces the negative implications of inequality and gender discrimination in their lives. This is a point that a lot of people still do not realize: Gender equality is not just about the rights of women. Patriarchy is not something that affects women alone.

This is why it is very important to have solidarity amongst a broad group of representatives of different cultures, genders and ages. Platforms where people with different experiences can share their stories are essential for building an empathetic link, especially given the worrying polarization in today’s political climate around gender inequality. Without this type of understanding, it is impossible for the gender equality movement to have the type of broad-based, society-wide support it needs to succeed.”

-Rakhi, India

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UN Women is the United Nations entity for #genderequality and women's empowerment.

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