Last week, world leaders, philanthropists, and activists gathered at the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) in Paris to discuss the future of women’s rights. Convened by UN Women, the three-day conference resulted in wide-ranging pledges amounting to $40 billion of investments and major policy and program commitments to go toward the equality and empowerment of women around the world.

As the first major conference on gender equality to be held since the 1995 Fourth Conference on Women took place in Beijing, the GEF and its participants set the agenda for how countries can promote women’s empowerment. To make sure policies and commitments were representative of the future of women’s rights, UN Women introduced the Generation Equality Youth Task Force to promote the voices of young people from around the world.

These youth activists have called on heads of state, worked within their communities, and implemented strategies geared towards accelerating gender equality everywhere. By participating in the GEF, they made sure that topics ranging from female genital mutilation (FGM) to disability rights were part of the conversation to make action plans intersectional and inclusive of all women.

Prior to the GEF, Global Citizen spoke to members of the Youth Task Force about their background and what they hoped to achieve at the international conference. Now that the conference has ended and world leaders have announced how they plan to promote gender equality in the future, we return to some of the activists to learn about their experience being part of the GEF.

Here are four activists from the Youth Task Force on what they hope to achieve for the future of women’s rights.


Kehkashan-Basu-embed.jpgCourtesy of Kehkashan Basu.

Kehkashan Basu

Canada

What were your goals going into the GEF? 

My goals going into the GEF were to ensure that climate change is recognized as the inequality multiplier that it is. Too often, climate change and climate justice are left out of the discussions on gender, and it is my hope that this linkage is recognized. As a young woman, I also hope that there is enough discussion dedicated to the wants and needs of adolescent girls, not just tokenistically, but in a holistic manner that leads to actions on the ground.

How was your experience being part of the Youth Task Force and conversations surrounding gender equality?

As one of the co-leaders and youth leaders of GEF's Action Coalition on Feminist Action for Climate Justice, I would say that my experience has been a very fruitful one. I always felt like I was treated as an expert voice at the table, just like my fellow co-leads. I got to bring forth the voice of the adolescent girls and young women, making sure to incorporate action points in the Global Gender Action Plan that were specific to adolescent girls and young women.

While there still remains a lot to be done, both in policy making and on the ground, I am really happy about the commitments made by stakeholders across sectors globally because it shows that we are on the right track towards a gender-equal world. I hope that the vast amounts of money committed to the cause of gender equality actually go to those people and communities doing honest, good work rather than to those who simply talk about problems but don't take action.

What do you hope for the future of women’s rights?

My organization, Green Hope Foundation, is committed to implementing resilience education, localizing the SDGs, monitoring the validity of gender data, normalizing civilian-collected gender data, and continuing our fight for a world of dignity. As grassroots actors who engage with stakeholders from the government, private sector and civil society, we will continue to do our bit to create a more equal world and inspire others to do the same.


Doreen-Mora-embed.pngCourtesy of Doreen Moraa.

Doreen Moraa

Kenya

What were your goals going into the GEF? 

My goals for the Generation Equality Forum were to see commitment from world leaders at the forefront of championing for gender equality. I hope that this conversation doesn't stop in Paris — I want to see it beyond Paris.

How was your experience being part of the Youth Task Force and conversations surrounding gender equality?

Being on the UN Women's Generation Equality Youth Task Force has been an eye-opening learning experience, but most importantly it has given me a seat at the table to advocate for change by sharing a voice from the community level. Some of the skills and lessons I have learned about advocating for women's rights around the world include resilience. The power within me has been awakened and I see how strong of an activist I am, and I have sharpened my public speaking skills.

A lot more needs to be done in terms of advocacy so that every woman and every girl and every stakeholder gets involved. I felt some underrepresentation, and there are also young people who don't know what GEF is all about.

As an activist, I intend to continue this conversation post-Paris by collaborating with other organizations in Kenya working around gender equality to do advocacy and capacity-building around gender issues and the GEF’s six thematic areas (gender-based violence, economic justice and rights, bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights, feminist action for climate justice, technology and innovation for gender equality, and feminist movements and leadership).

What do you hope for the future of women’s rights?

To me, the future for women and girls looks super bright. Gender equality looks very achievable and the world seems ready to help us and hold each other accountable to achieve gender equality. In 26 years, I hope to be celebrating the fact that we made a mark in the world, a permanent one.


Selin Ozunaldim.pngCourtesy of Selin Ozunaldim.

Selin Ozunaldim

Turkey

What were your goals going into the GEF? 

It was an immense pleasure to have the opportunity to meet with my biggest role models (Hillary Clinton, Nadia Murad, Melinda Gates) and directly have a conversation with them. Through the Forum, the landmark efforts brought together governments, corporations, and change to define and announce ambitious investments and policies. It was also great to see controversial topics being discussed on a global stage like these, such as FGM, period poverty, immigrants, LGBTQIA+ rights, and sexual and reproductive health.

How was your experience being part of the Youth Task Force and conversations surrounding gender equality?

The GEF has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine being part of something this big, this impactful. I feel incredibly lucky. With the Youth Task Force and National Gender Youth Activists, we had the opportunity to be in a space where we could directly communicate with the UN, member states, corporations, action coalitions, but most importantly, with fellow young changemakers who are willing to dedicate their time and energy into creating meaningful change and having true impact.

In many of the events we participated in, youth and adolescents were mostly there for PR purposes. We were there so they could take pictures of us, so we could show how grateful we are that member states are giving us this opportunity, which is a very toxic approach to involving youth leaders. As participants and planners, we wanted to reduce tokenism as much as we could and make sure that our voices were being heard on a global scale.

What do you hope for the future of women’s rights?

I will continue to ask the respectful leaders who are present in the process: What are your thoughts about our demands and what are you going to do about them? How are you going to ensure that our voice is heard and we are centered in the Action Coalitions? Because, as adolescent girls from all across the globe, we are very much eager to listen to your response. Enough is enough.


Obedi-GEF-embed.JPGCourtesy of Sylvain Obedi.

Sylvain Obedi 

Democratic Republic of the Congo

What were your goals going into the GEF? 

Amplify the voices of people from marginalized groups and contribute to the fight against social inequalities. Through the forum, I would like to see all leaders of the GEF, Action Coalitions, and governments make inclusion a priority and consider diversity as an asset. This goes through the inclusion or integration of people with disabilities in all GEF structures to ensure that they are also at the table.

How was your experience being part of the Youth Task Force and conversations surrounding gender equality?

The Youth Task Force has become a second family to me. This group makes me believe that if the world wants to achieve the impossible, the best way is to invest in the young.

I am very proud of two major steps in the GEF, namely the commitments of governments, organizations, philanthropists, and youth. The most important step is the accountability or follow-up of commitments; these are very good steps for anyone involved in advocacy. I am very proud that efforts are being made to include people with disabilities in the official program of the World Economic Forum.

The only thing that disappoints me so far — and that I will continue to fight for — is the fact that I have not had a specific conception of the GEF on people with disabilities.

What do you hope for the future of women’s rights?

In the near future, to ensure the respect of women's rights, I would like to see women at the head of strong institutions so that they can be involved from the conception of policies to their implementation. This would allow us to move forward.

As an individual activist, the work that I do goes first through the awakening of consciousness and the sharing of information; and then, I make the call to action aiming at engaging the whole community on the issues affecting women's dignity.


Editor's note: These responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.


Global Citizen Asks

Demand Equity

We Asked 4 Youth Activists What They Think About the Future of Women’s Rights. Here’s What They Said.

By Jaxx Artz