Five Ways Youth Are Pushing for Progress on Gender Equity
In honor of International Women’s Day, we honor YouthActionNet Fellows who are breaking through gender barriers and advancing progress toward gender equity. These young women and men understand that moving the needle on gender begins with shifting deeply-ingrained attitudes. Their social innovations show us how it can be done—whether equipping teenage girls to advocate for their rights or building the self-confidence and leadership skills of low-income rural women.
With half of the world’s population currently under the age of thirty, today’s young generation offer hope and concrete tools for re-writing worn-out gender narratives. “If we change the narrative today, we can effectively change the culture permanently tomorrow,” says 2016 YouthActionNet Fellow Aditya Gupta, Co-founder of People for Parity in India.
Below Aditya and other YouthActionNet Fellows offer valuable lessons to help speed up the clock on achieving gender equity. These video testimonials were made possible with generous support from Laureate International Universities and the American Express Foundation.
1. To shift how society perceives women, start with how teenage girls perceive themselves. Sylvia Wodzinska co-founded MamyGlos (We’ve Got Voice) as the first organization in Poland to empower teenagers to stand up against sexism. Through MamyGlos workshops, more than 1,000 girls have learned about their rights, activism, self-defense, social entrepreneurship, and law literacy. “Young girls are taught to be passive, obedient, to be silent and to never stand up for themselves,” says Sylwia. “We want each and every girl in Poland to feel safe and secure at home, on the street, at school, and in their own body.” MamyGlos also organizes youth-led campaigns that advocate for the rights of women and girls. Watch this video to learn how MamyGlos is contributing to U.N. Sustainable Goal #5: Achieve Gender Equality.
2. The road to gender equity begins with educating and empowering young people to lead change in their communities. Aditya co-founded People for Parity to prevent gender-based violence in India. Through offering workshops on gender, violence, and women’s rights—along with a six-month fellowship program—the organization engages youth as agents of change. Once trained, youth facilitate dialogues with their peers, families, and community members on how patriarchal norms impact local development and contribute to poverty. “In a country like India where half the population is young, they [youth] offer a wonderful opportunity to rewrite culture,” says Aditya in this video.
3. Economically-empowering women is good for families and communities—and is one of the most powerful tools for breaking the cycle of poverty. Through KinoSol, Mikayla Sullivan equips small-scale subsistence farmers, mostly women, with solar-powered dehydrating technology designed to preserve food and boost incomes. In this video, she describes how KinoSol’s low-cost solution not only contributes to improved family health and nutrition but supports economic development among smallholder farmers in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Similarly, Binayak Achara trains low-income women in India to implement technology-driven education programs in rural communities. Participating women benefit from a 40-50 percent average increase in family income while serving as role models for their peers. “We are seeing these women becoming societal change-makers in their community,” says Binayak in this video interview.
Far from solving one problem in isolation, these and other YouthActionNet Fellows see the important role that gender equity plays in addressing a range of urgent development challenges.
4. Women need to develop their knowledge, skills, and confidence to be effective—and to be heard—within male-dominant environments. “I really try to show that I understand the issues and problems we’re working on,” says Mikayla in the video, Believe in Yourself. She also emphasizes the importance of honing your communication skills as a woman leader.
In Don’t Apologize for Being Strong, Nafula Wafula, founder of the SEMA Initiative in Kenya, shares her morning ritual for reinforcing a sense of inner strength and self-confidence. Before she leaves home, Nafula stands in front of a mirror where she affixes sticky notes with empowering messages. “When I go out and things are tough, there is still that voice encouraging me,” she says. “I have strength in the person that I know that I am.”
5. To help overcome limiting beliefs—internally and externally—women leaders need to support each other. “As a woman leader, the worst challenge I faced was not believing in myself,” says Sylwia Wodzinska, who admits to being her own worst critic. “I think I’ll never be able to do what I want to do because I’m incapable and lack training.” To counteract this, MamyGlos created a mutual support system among its members. “We really emphasize the power of sisterhood… of women supporting other women and giving positive and critical feedback,” she says. Watch the video.
As author Charles Eisenstein writes, “To be a change agent is, first, to disrupt the existing story of the world, and second, to tell a new story of the world so that those entering the space between stories have a place to go.” Driven by values of equity, justice, and inclusion, these and other YouthActionNet Fellows offer a bold new story to live by and concrete steps for achieving greater gender equity—in their lifetime.