We’ve all heard world leaders making commitments on gender equality, girls’ education, climate change, the COVID-19 recovery, and other issues that are central to all our wellbeing and future prosperity. But do the girls and young women who are most affected by these issues have a say in the decisions and policies designed to address them?
Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage contributed to promoting youth engagement during the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) to inspire youth-friendly political and financial commitments to advancing gender equality over the next five years.
Now, for International Youth Day, we share our insights on why young people must be meaningfully included in global decision making if we are to build a fairer world where we can all exercise our rights.
Mobilising youth in LAC
The GEF resulted in US$40 billion in pledges, and 1076 commitments to address gender inequality by governments, donors and the private sector. It also saw the launch of the five-year Global Acceleration Plan for Gender Equality, which is structured around six Action Coalitions.
Young people from Latin America and the Caribbean – particularly adolescents and young women – pushed for commitments that respond to their specific needs, focusing on gender-based violence, climate change, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and child, early and forced marriage and unions (from here on called “child marriage”).
Elvira Pablo, Policy and Member Engagement Officer for LAC at Girls Not Brides – and a young indigenous woman herself – was at the GEF in Mexico and Paris (March and July 2012) and was a key player in promoting youth engagement in the process. She highlights: "For our region, it is important to make visible the root causes and solutions to the issues faced by girls and young people, and to go beyond legal changes."
As young activists from indigenous communities, our voices need to be represented in the spaces where decisions are taken. We need to be able to contribute to strategies and processes like the GEF – nothing about us without us!
RedLAC and Juventud ECMIA, two regional youth networks in LAC, led a process to bring young people from the region to develop a political statement and a list of commitments around each of the Action Coalition themes. “We presented these recommendations to governments, UN agencies, donors, and civil society, who pledged to take them to Paris, and to incorporate them into their own commitments."
This work by youth groups also put the needs of girls, adolescents and young people in LAC on the international agenda, with a particular focus on the right to bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health, which are directly related to child marriage.
Young people influencing the international agenda
The GEF improved its inclusiveness over time, but it was still a challenge to ensure that youth representatives from around the world were meaningfully involved.
“In the beginning, there were very few youth organisations leading the Action Coalitions. Targeted advocacy by civil society groups – like the Generation Equality Youth Task Force (YTF) – resulted in the GEF publishing a special call for adolescents and youth-led organisations to participate in and lead,” says Elvira.
The Young Feminist UnConference – an event held in the lead-up to the GEF in Paris – acted as a friendly space for young people from around the world to join the conversation. The Young Feminist Manifesto also put pressure on the GEF to include more young women, and to recognise their contributions.
Ensuring groups of adolescents and young people were heard in the working sessions meant making an extra effort, and thinking outside the box.
Some spaces have power dynamics that make it difficult for adolescents and youth to participate,” Elvira explains, “so, we need to find alternative ways to foster collective leadership and power sharing in intercultural and intergenerational dialogues."
Moving forwards with youth engagement
It was a long road, but we kept the issue [child marriage] on the agenda. Now we have five years for the implementation of the Action Coalitions,” Elvira says, “and everyone needs to mobilise to make them a reality: adolescents, youth, governments, civil society, UN agencies, donors and the private sector.
This process demonstrated that young people can formulate strong positions and get them heard by key actors at the regional and global level”, she adds. “It also taught us that we need to continue working together to ensure girls, adolescents and young women are at the centre of the decisions that affect their lives, so that global strategies are effective for them.
The list of recommended commitments compiled by adolescents and young women in LAC was a great achievement for groups and networks in the region. “This list can be used to check that any action for gender equality considers young people’s demands and proposals," Elvira explains.
"With the implementation of these Action Coalitions at all levels – especially those that address the root causes of gender inequality – we can move towards a world free from child marriage.”
In the time it has taken to read this article 50 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds