The intersecting crises of the current moment expose the failures of our systems. The COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of authoritarian governments, persistent gender inequality and the climate emergency require better and faster solutions from the global community. These crises are drastically shaping the present and future of the most vulnerable people, including women, girls, queer, trans and intersex young people, especially those from the Global South.

But, despite the urgency of the hour, 2021 saw two key global multilateral events reproducing exclusionary practices, offering inadequate solutions, and leaving the groups at most risk behind: the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) and the 26th United Nations Climate Conference of the Parties (COP26).

Right now, decision-makers, the private sector and civil society are gathering in Glasgow for the COP26 climate talks.

Having taken place annually for almost 30 years, these climate negotiations have achieved very little. The world continues to heat up at an alarming rate and frontline communities are the most impacted. Months before COP26’s opening, climate activists raised red flags on the lack of proper civil society attendance, a difficulty also faced by smaller and poorer countries. Having ignored their demands, the UN climate negotiations are being overshadowed by exclusionary conditions, such as:

• the dominance of western languages,
corporate capture – which influences the global climate agenda in favour of the fossil fuel industry,
• the prohibitive prices of travel and lodging, and
• the limited avenues for civil society engagement in the official programme.

When young activists from the Global South are given space in the formal agenda, they are expected to play a predetermined role, often tokenising their experiences.

Last July, the GEF closed with the announcement of important achievements.

It included an unprecedented commitment of USD $40 billion dollars and agreements made by different stakeholders, from private to public sectors and civil society organizations, on actions to be taken in the coming years to fight gender inequality.

Nevertheless, the space and processes were experienced as inaccessible and alienating, particularly for young people.

As a response, young feminists published the GEF Young Feminist Manifesto calling for youth co-ownership, as well as intersectional, transformative and feminist co-leadership during the forum. As the event was moved online due to the pandemic, many young people, particularly those in the Global South who lacked logistical resources to follow the forum, felt left behind. They were deprived of the ability to participate in the discussions actively, being made passive audiences to the debates, commitments, and decisions during the convening.

Though attracting a huge amount of attention from global media, national governments, the private sector and international development organizations, forums like GEF and COP26 are yet to deliver concrete transformation at the local level. Systemic and lasting change takes time, but given the lack of impact on real people’s lives coming out of these events, our collective sense of urgency and demand from them should be greater.

Why do these spaces keep failing to meet expectations? From where could we draw the courage, ingenuity and insight to ensure that their outcomes are meaningful?

Placing young feminists at the centre

We believe that the real gender equity and climate justice leadership that we need is embedded at the grassroots of feminist activism, where high level political ideas are translated into daily intersectional realities. Those people at the receiving end of climate change and gender inequalities are also building transformational solutions for the current emergencies.

Similarly, young people from these very same communities are the least responsible for causing the current crises, and yet they are also leading the way in crafting alternatives that will benefit us all. They are also the ones who face the most difficulties when trying to access the multilateral decision making spaces intended to drive consensus on global issues.

No gender equity will be possible unless:

• youth voices and demands are heard and taken into consideration.
• young people are given co-ownership of the agenda as well as its organization, implementation and evaluation.
• we develop youth-friendly mechanisms and feminist spaces that channel grassroots perspectives into global discussions and turn global discussions into grassroots actions.

Similarly, no climate justice will be possible:

• without the meaningful participation of the young feminists who are at the frontlines.
• if governments keep insisting on magical technical fixes.
• if industrialized governments continue to claim that ahistorical, unscientific, technical and market-based scams, like the famous COP26 net-zero strategies, are the solution for halting carbon emissions.

The current scenario of climate chaos is absolutely engrained with the exploitation of people and nature – through the global trade markets and commodities, financial investments, corporate lobby, land grabbing, modern-day slavery, and the closing of civic engagement in policymaking.

Climate justice will only be possible when we center global efforts on transitioning into a feminist fossil-free future that is based on the wellbeing of communities, ecosystems and beings in all their diversity.

But there is hope.

2026 is the next global moment set to measure how the world is doing in implementing the pledges made at the GEF. As we work towards this checkpoint, it is important that Global South young feminist leadership takes up necessary space in local, national, regional and international political debates, actions and policymaking.

This requires the global community to go beyond talking and start walking together with young feminist organizers, particularly those from the poorest parts of the world. We need to follow their leadership, insights and experiences, amplify their voices, and fund their activism.

The COP26 momentum can still be salvaged if the global community, particularly the philanthropic and media sectors, resource and feature young climate activists and frontline organizers both during and after the conference. In this way, the empty and self-congratulatory messages from states and corporations can be countered by the transformative, imaginative and concrete demands of those at the cutting edge of dreaming of a climate just future.

The way that we build our solutions matters for their outcomes. Without young feminists’ expertise, boldness and creativity, we will compromise the world’s last opportunity to achieve real climate and gender transformations and the chance to build a dignified, harmonious and livable future for all.

Hazal Atay is Community Support Consultant and Middle East Advisor at FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund.

Maria Alejandra Escalante is Climate & Environmental Justice Advocacy Officer at FRIDA.

Sandile Ndelu is Interim Co-Manager of the Communications and Advocacy team at FRIDA.

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