On Friday March 11, the first ever UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) Youth Forum took place in New York, USA. The World YWCA and partners UN Women and the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Developments Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality led the event. And a coalition of youth-led organisations and UN agencies organised the event, including AYUDH Bahá’í International Community, LitWorld, Man Up Campaign, MenEngage, Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, World Association of Girl Guides and Girls Scouts (WAGGS), Plan International, Royal Commonwealth Society, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN-Habitat – United Nations Human Settlements Programme.
The forum took place over two days and brought together 400 young people from across the globe. The key theme Advancing Agenda 2030 – Empowered Young Women and Young Men as Partners in Achieving Gender Equality – provided a strong foundation for discussion and recommendations. The opening session was inspirational with keynote speakers:
- Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women;
- Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, Secretary General, World YWCA;
- Ahmad Alhendawi, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Youth;
- Anita Tiessen, CEO of WAGGGS;
- Ravi Karkara, Senior Advisor Strategic Partnership and Advocacy, UN Women; and
- Laskmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women
Tennille Amor performed her hit track – I am a Girl, which is an anthem for girls and women around the world to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams, no matter what obstacles they face. Released on International Women’s Day, 2016 at the United Nations, ‘I Am a Girl’ supports the Sustainable Development Goal to Achieve Gender Equality by 2030.
“The time has come when world leaders must walk the talk about young people’s leadership. We must share space and power, and give the space for young people to be truly in front. This is the shift that needs to happen if inter-generational leadership is to be transformative. Young people are leaders of today and not tomorrow,” shared Ms. Gumbonzvanda.
“We must invest in the lives of young women and girls. Education is key. Books should come before babies. In the two days that this forum takes place, 17,000 girls under the age of 18 will be married. We cannot continue as business as usual,” stated Mr. Alhendawi.
“Violence against women continues to affect one in three women, making it one of the most widespread human rights violations. We cannot be silent on this issue; the time has come and the time is now. Change must come, and we must be that change,” rallied Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Youth forum delegates took to social media to demand a different path for gender equality using the hashtag #youthcswforum and #youth. Over the course of the two days #youth began to trend on twitter reaching millions of people and global leaders. The delegates participated in different sessions and worked in thematic groups to address the following issues:
1. Ensuring an engendered implementation of the SDGs at the national/local level
2. Young women, peace and security
3. Ending violence against young women and girls
4. Economic empowerment of young women
5. Young women and climate justice
6. Working with young men as partners in gender equality
7. Young women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and HIV/AIDS
From these groups, the youth forum created a drafting committee to produce a Youth Agreed Conclusions document to be submitted the official CSW Bureau. This was historic, as for the first time, the voices of young women and young men will be directly incorporated into the official CSW Agreed Conclusions which is negotiated text by UN Member States.
The drafting committee worked tirelessly to produce a one page brief known as the Youth Declaration which was received by the H.E. Mr. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota (Brazil), Chair of the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The official Youth Agreed Conclusions will be available later in the week.
The Forum fostered collaboration and strategic networking among young women and young men to strengthen their voices and leadership in the women’s movement. It also took into account their diverse voices to highlight intersectional challenges and opportunities. At the same time, it harnessed the lived experiences, knowledge, skills and perspectives of young women to contribute to an intentional intergenerational approach.
Finally, it provided opportunities for learning and mentorship of young women and young men in the normative and policy making spaces for advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality. At the same time, it provided a safe space for interactive engagement of young women and girls with other delegates and policy makers through the process.