Speaking from Day 2 of the Commission on the Status of Women Youth Forum, our young women reps highlighted what we can miss if we don't allow young voices to be heard.
From 11 year old Elizabeth speaking on on child marriage and love to Carlos Saavedra genuinely talking about power and the spaces we occupy the day showed there is a rich source of knowledge that stems from young people that we should be using to make change.
The Youth Forum has now submitted its declaration to CSW on its first day. Read the declaration.
I feel like an 11 year old showed up the whole UN today. Eleven year old Elizabeth is part of a delegation of young people working to end child marriage. The leader of her delegation (who is an adult) was speaking on a panel on working intergenerationally within the gender equality movememnt, this afternoon when she asked the young girl to sit at the panel with her. This was, she said, a goal for young Elizabeth. And when she did take up the microphone, that young girl excelled! She spoke the wisest words I think I heard all day!
"'Love is like a donut," she said. "It is only valid if you share it. If you don't want to eat it or share it, what's the point of having it in your hands?"
Gorgeous. Wise. And most importantly she embodied the need to involve young people in the gender equality movement.
On intersectionality Elizabeth said something that has reaonated with me:
"Race, culture, gender, age, traditions - all those words that describe human beings - you can look them up in a dictionary but in reality they don't mean one single thing."
Wow. Just wow. Elizabeth, I'm sure we'll be hearing some great things from you in the future.
From the second day of the CSW Youth Forum what stood out to me most was the second breakout session which was about using photography for social justice. I was less struck by the content (which was actually very interesting) and more so by the manner of the presenter Carlos Saavedra. This weekend we heard a lot of talk about 'holding space for women' or 'making space for young women' like it is that person's space to occupy. This sort of discourse, I think, just reinforces the status quo, its lip service from those which hold the power, without ever actually giving up the space that you shouldn't have been in, in the first place. This also cuts across all intersections, not just gender; you see it in older people talking about including younger generations, and state bodies touting their plans for achieving more equitable distribution of wealth and advantage across socio-economic, and cultural divisions.
The reason that Saavedra was so memorable was because he appeared to genuinely accept, and explain what was and what was not his space, with no pretense and expecting no congratulations for stepping away. The entire presentation appeared to be held together by a genuine respect for the strength of women in adverse conditions; and was devoid of exclamations which would make one find the artist’s thoughts and feelings instead of those of the women’s in his work. I think that a great deal of women would agree that dialogue about sharing space, from those who occupy it rarely seems to be genuine. And in this presentation it made all the difference.
On the second day of the United Nations Youth Forum, what stood out for me were both the CSW workshops; ‘HERSTORY – Her Voice. Our Future’ and a workshop on the importance of young women in business/ as entrepreneurs creating businesses.
The first workshop, HERSTORY affected me personally as the main message they communicated is to ‘use your story to ignite global change’. For me my journey of advocating began after fully overcoming the difficulties I faced growing up - including challenges I’ve faced and conquered.
I felt instead of staying in my bedroom and crying about it, I needed to get up and protect anyone who may experience similar experiences or those who have been affected. I wanted to make sure they had as much of a support base as I did and hopefully be able to inspire them to turn the dark experience into something that they could look upon and instead say that they’re strong and that they’re a survivor.
During the workshop I learnt how powerful a personal narrative can be, starting with focusing on your strengths followed by how much your story can reflect upon others, the mirror and window effect, where your story can be a ‘mirror’ that reflects in other stories. The story can be a ‘window’ where others or even yourself can learn from the experiences and can create a mentorship, which is important as it can allow you to grow and share the story for others to pass on the effect.
They then ask us to draw a Heart Map. A Heart Map can be the foundation to your story or can help you to think about how roles and relationships tie us to others as well as to realise what can make you unique as an individual.
For my heart I included:
I'm a survivor, I'm a representative for the CALD community, I am 17, I am the first woman in my family to finish school and be able to go to university, I am an Australian, I am an Indian, I can help to economically empower women, I care about those who live in poverty and are going through life’s toughest challenges, I am a paradigm breaker, I can inspire.”
At the end of the Heart Activity they asked for people to comment on their heart or to talk about their personal story. As I felt it was a safe place and as I felt it was a place where I might be able to help at least someone in the space, I spoke about one of the hardest challenges I faced. I had my hand up but then freaked out a little, but realising it was too late to put it back down I said it and the words just poured out of my mouth and without realising it I accidentally made someone cry. When I finished I sat back down and everyone was clapping.
As someone who has always had difficulties with self esteem and confidence I couldn’t hear the words that were spoken around me but then afterwards so many people came up to me and told me how powerful and inspiring it was for them to hear it and thanked me for being brave and talking about it. This included a few who told me how similar experiences have happened to them and we ended up hugging each other. It was all just a very beautiful moment looking back and I remember leaving the session feeling like wow I can actually make a difference and help someone even though they are from another country.
The second one was about empowering women as entrepreneurs. It was interesting as we did a poll to put forward our ideas and then got into groups to produce a business from one idea. My idea was to give young women volunteer/work experience to enable them to have a better future job. There was also another idea of giving young girls access to tampons/condoms/pads and teaching them sexual education (how to use the products listed) which is taboo to talk about in many developing countries. The group I was in loved both ideas and decided to combine them. At the end we were asked to nominate ambassadors to speak about the product, they nominated me and another lady and it was our job to truly sell the business to the other group, so we went round to sell the idea and everyone really liked it and out of it we received questions to think about. It was an amazing session and probably helped me if I was ever to be interested with business. At the end of it the lady I was with selling the product told me how impressed she was that I was 17 and told me to keep it up.
It was a really good day overall.
With thanks to the sponsors that made their trip possible: