AC6 Action 4: Strengthen adolescent girl-led, youth-led and youth-serving movements and organizations
Despite a renewed focus to engage youth over the years, especially in recognition that as of 2019, 60% of Africa’s population was under-25 , young women’s leadership continues to be undermined in civic space. According to a study by Plan International, 76% of girls and young women surveyed aspire to be a leader in their country, community or career but as it stands, only 24% of parliamentarians worldwide are women and only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs. This disconnect between the passion and aspirations of young women, versus the reality of gender-discrimination that limits their potential is shocking and demonstrates the exclusion of young voices in decision-making structures. If the AC is to be successful in strengthening youth-led movements, it will be key to understanding how this gap between aspiration and reality sets in.
The passion and determination of young people and youth issues is evident in results from the GC so far. 29.4% of respondents highlighted ‘Education and Youth Empowerment’ as a key issue to them, making it the second most popular issue selected. In addition, when looking at the demographic break up of respondents, our largest age group of respondents with 31.1% was 18 to 24-year-olds, with just under 60% of all respondents overall coming from the under 35’s group. This exhibits real willingness by young people to engage with these topics and have their voices heard, and the value of a data set that has such a strong youth voice.
To underscore the value the GC can bring to the plan to strengthen adolescent girl-led, youth-led and youth-serving movements and organisations, we can look at an answer from a woman from Kitwe, Zambia between the ages of 45 and 54. She identified that ‘Ending Violence, Harassment and Abuse’ was one of her top three critical issues, along with ‘Education and Youth Empowerment.’ She said that the biggest barrier to progress was ‘cultural/social’, and identified that the YWCA is an organisation that has been effective in her area. When asked, ‘What does progress for women’s human rights look like in 10 years?’, she commented: “Education has made women independent and they are no longer dependent on men to lead their lives. Business laws have changed to allow more women in the workplace and give them a comfortable environment to work in.”
This woman’s story can inform AC6 Action 4, because it shows a vision and roadmap for the future: she sees education and youth empowerment as key to realising progress on gender equality, and she sees the YWCA as effective in empowering youth and ensuring girls can gain independence in her area. Her answer gives depth: she views the project of women’s equality as a pipeline: we must ensure girls are confident and empowered, and that they are provided safe, comfortable work opportunities as they enter the working world to ensure that they can sustain their independence.
Furthermore, participation in political spaces and in leadership positions was also linked to achieving women’s rights by a young woman from Nakonde, Zambia aged between 25 and 34. She identified ‘Ending Violence, Harassment, and Abuse’ and ‘cultural/ social’ being the barriers to progress. She highlighted the importance of “replacing harmful social norms that hinder women and young people to speak out,” and wrote that she “wants to see women and youth economically empowered to be able to participate in various leadership positions without being used as agents of violence.” Her response in the open-ended comments direct our attention to the need to enable young people to lead the changing of social norms which aim to control women’s and girls’ sexuality. Ensuring young people are enabled to speak out can pave a path to allow norms to be challenged and changed for generations to come.
Given part of the commitment in this area is to “invest and promote accountability of decision-makers to the issues and solutions advocated on by adolescent girl-led and young feminist movements”, the results of the GC can give the AC a starting point for this, offering perspectives from young women and gender-diverse people as an accountability mechanism. Furthermore, as demonstrated by the answers above, young people are very aware of the issue impacting them and the barriers to success for young women in particular. This points to a real need for AC for Feminist Movements and Leadership to focus on the pipeline from youth to adult, starting with meaningful partipation of young feminist movements within formal policy and decision-making spaces that we are not yet to see, and a challenging of non-youth spaces to ensure they are safe and open to listening to and acting on the voices of young women.