Young leaders drive progressive change to end violence against women and girls
The Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth (OSGEY) recently unveiled the 2022 cohort of Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 young people, who come from different backgrounds and parts of the world, are stepping up to address the world’s most pressing issues and empowering other young people to embrace the SDGs.
During the 16 Days of Activism, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) spoke with some of these leaders to discuss what is driving violence against women, the importance of taking an intersectional approach to this issue, and the role of youth advocacy.
Rising violence against women and girls
One in three women will experience some form of violence in her lifetime. There is no single cause for this violence, but a significant role is played by harmful social norms and beliefs that foster gender inequality. With diverse backgrounds and fields of work, the community of young leaders works together to engage young people on various cross-cutting issues through strategic opportunities with the UN and through their existing initiatives, platforms and network.
One of the 17 leaders is Vee Kativhu, a Zimbabwean and British education activist and founder of Empowered by Vee, highlights how she has seen a “grave amount of disempowerment” and violence that impede women’s and girls’ education and confidence. Her youth empowerment organization aims to bridge the gap between academic ability and self-belief so that young girls can navigate academic spaces and address a systematic lack of diversity and resources. Vee shared:
“These kinds of physical, emotional and mental violence disempower young women and adolescent girls in that it reinforces the social norms of them being inferior, being only valued in the context of the housework, early child marriage and childbearing.”
Intersectional and creative approach to preventing violence against women
The SDGs’ focus on “leaving no one behind” emphasizes inclusive approaches to violence against women and girls as well as the importance of recognizing and addressing intersecting forms of discrimination and violence.
Isidora Guzmán Silva, an inclusion and gender equality activist from Chile, expressed the need to address diversity and inclusion to ensure that no woman or girl is left behind:
“One in five women live with a disability in the world, but even so, we are constantly made invisible and violated.”
This injustice inspired Isidora, at the age of 13, to create an app for people with disabilities to find parking spaces. She then founded Encuentra tu lugar (Find Your Place), an organization that raises awareness on human rights and gender equality by encouraging inclusion and helping people with disabilities to access education and legal information. She said:
“This problem is generated because of a system that believes that women should only fulfil roles of care and service for others. While having a disability, this can no longer be fulfilled and therefore we are excluded.”
For Karimot Odebode, a Nigerian gender equality activist, poet and founder of Black Girl’s Dream, art offers multiple pathways to initiate important discussions about social changes. She said:
“A painting, a [piece of] music, a garment, a fabric sensation, seems to me a more efficient way to create debate, actions and sentiments for an equal society based on peace and rejecting violence. It’s also a way to integrate those who are usually excluded from such discussions due to gender, race and sexual orientation.”
Know your rights: educating women and girls, men and boys
The young leaders all agreed on the importance of empowering women and girls through knowing their rights, identifying different forms of violence and accessing appropriate services.
Mayada Adil, a Sudanese fashion designer, medical doctor and co-founder of LaLoupeCreative artistic platform that supports refugee artists worldwide, explained:
“What is crucial is women’s full awareness of their body agency and to have the means and tools to protect themselves.”
Karimot agreed: “A woman that is well informed about her rights is one that will build a more equitable society for girls.”
For Richa Gupta, an educator who has been working with under-served children to overcome poverty while becoming effective learners, education is grounded in building relationships, resilience and motivation. A co-founder of the Labhya Foundation, a globally recognized Indian nonprofit, Richa shared:
“When an entire generation becomes more aware of their emotions, their strengths, their areas of development and their agency, they will be able to take charge of their lives.”
Emmanuel Ganse, a civic and digital rights campaigner from Benin and President of the Tonafa Institute that works to prevent social conflicts, emphasized men and boys’ engagement, saying:
“I think that all men should commit themselves against gender-based violence. We will be happier in a world without violence.”
Young leaders transforming their future
At the forefront of governments and activist movements, young leaders are important drivers of change. Idil Uner, Associate Public Information Officer at OSGEY, shared:
“Ending gender-based violence is not possible without young people’s leadership and expertise. For solutions to be effective, durable and survivor centred, young people’s meaningful participation must be at the core of all approaches to preventing violence against women and girls.”
The rise of young feminist organizing that leads bold, innovative initiatives at all levels addressing intersectional issues and lending voices to the most marginalized populations has prompted the UN Trust Fund’s grant-giving priorities in the Strategic Plan 2021–2025. In its first year of implementation, UN Trust Fund grantees have worked with over 3,600 youth leaders in preventing violence against women and girls, and continued to empower and engage young community members in local feminist movements. The meaningful collaboration with OSGEY will contribute to driving UN Trust Fund’s youth empowerment agenda forward in the work to prevent and end violence against women and girls globally.
About the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth:
In 2017, the UN Secretary-General appointed Jayathma Wickramanayake of Sri Lanka as his Special Envoy on Youth and as the youngest senior official in the history of the organization. Ms. Wickramanayake’s mandate is to harmonize the UN system efforts on youth development, enhance the UN response to youth needs, advocate for the development needs and rights of young people, as well as to bring the work of the United Nations on youth closer to them. The Envoy on Youth also acts as the advisor to and the representative of the Secretary-General on youth related matters.
Every two years, the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth recognizes 17 young change-makers who are leading efforts to combat the world’s multidimensional challenges and whose leadership is catalyzing the achievement of the SDGs. Since launching in 2016, the initiative has collectively reached millions of young people around the world.
Follow @UNYouthEnvoy on social media and visit the website at www.un.org/youthenvoy.