As Girls’ Globe has trekked from event to event, seminar to seminar and reception to reception this week, we’ve heard two themes repeatedly crop up. The first is the pressing need for accountability; forcing governments to hold themselves responsible for the achievement—or failure—of set goals.
The second theme, and more prominent one, is an emphasis on youth as integral to moving forward.
The idea that youth are the real changemakers in the world sounds like a platitude, but is a growing reality. Youth are a big deal, both figuratively and literally. There are 1.8 billion people between ages 18 – 24 in the world today, and that population is growing fastest in the world’s poorest countries.
As their numbers skyrocket, addressing the needs of young people is vital in the present. Just as importantly, young people are the world’s future, and involving them as early as possible is imperative for future success.
Young people are about to inherit an enormous responsibility for resolving many long-standing complex problems, ranging from poverty to climate change, yet they have mostly been excluded from participating in the decisions that will determine what the future looks like. Young people must therefore have a say now in shaping the policies that will have a lasting impact on humanity and the health of the planet.
– Irem Tümer, former Women Deliver Young Leader
However, what policymakers are slowly coming to realize is that focusing on young people does not just mean paying attention to them – it means bringing them into the discussion.
Youth is not the same as naivete or inexperience or powerlessness. Indeed, many young people are best suited to be implementing the changes being so urgently discussed in the breakout sessions of high-level conferences.
When speaking to sexual education, marginalized youth are most likely to listen to a peer who understands the culture, has experienced the problems and is less intimidating than a doctor, for example. When attempting to provoke political change, which demographic is the most easily ignited to take action? And the single most powerful voice advocating for education is 18 year old Malala.
Yet, as mentioned in a Girls’ Globe roundtable on Periscope, youth have been talked about the week, but not so much put into action. Most of the speakers have been the established industry figures, and there have been few young members in the audiences called upon to share ideas or ask questions. (At the end of one particular meeting, one speaker joked about rectifying this, mandating at a Q&A panel, “You can only ask a question if you’re under 24.”)
That’s why meeting with a set group of young women this week was particularly encouraging. Girl Effect brought a number of young women, ranging in ages 12 -20, from places as far-reaching as Bulgaria, Guatemala and Malawi to UNGA week, to expose them to this kind of high level event, as well as offer specific, solidified workshops on social media, how to tell a story, how to provoke change in a world saturated by noise, media and indifference.
The girls themselves were impressive – they managed to maintain the enthusiasm, energy and irrepressible optimism that makes their demographic so appealing, while simultaneously showing an understanding of the challenges they faced, a desire to overcome them, and a willingness to step on a plane and fly to New York to start the process.
We were there to talk to the girls about the power of social media to amplify their voices, and do quick interviews. The answers varied from ambitious in power, from equality in representation and a female president, to as basic as wanting a decent education.
These girls were a microcosm of a much larger scenario. There is a lot of emphasis on heads of state and top-down intervention, when there is real energy on the ground, bubbling in youth, which is awaiting direction or channeling. Whether it’s to put a woman president in office or put clean water in homes, there’s a range of issues to address. Each girl in the group knows her country is afflicted by gender inequality and recognizes that she can not simply wait for someone else to do something about it.
There’s a lot going on at the United Nations General Assembly: a lot of encouraging news, a lot of admissions of failures, a lot of big decisions, a lot of analysis of years of work, a lot of posturing, a lot of policy, a lot of bright flashbulbs going off around heads of state and a lot of closed-door meetings. Yet, amidst it all, there are these few small but bright sparks of real inspiration.