6 March 2012
Economic and Social Council

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-sixth Session

14th Meeting (AM)

Examining Ways to Engage Young People in Furthering Gender Equality, Panellist

Tells Women’s Commission ‘Time We Include More Young People in Conferences’


Since young people had great ideas, but trouble implementing them, the United Nations should lead by example, allowing those under age 16 to take part in conferences, the Commission on the Status of Women heard during a lively interactive panel discussion today on engaging youth to advance gender equality.

“It’s time we included more young people in our conferences,” said panellist Rozaina Adam, one of five female parliamentarians in the Maldives and one of four panellists addressing the meeting today.  She strongly supported that notion, suggested during the discussion by a youth representative of the Girl Scouts of America, who pointed out that the United Nations barred those under age 16 from obtaining grounds passes for meetings and conferences.  This Commission should make a point of including one youth per delegation, Ms. Adam said.

Youth panellist Edna Akullq, founder of the non-governmental organization Self Help Foundation Uganda, went further, asking Commission members directly: “how many young delegates did you come [to the current session] with?  Have we missed the opportunity?  Are we involving young people as stakeholders in the cause?”

Emphasizing that gender equality was obviously not treated as a priority in society, schools and many other forums, Ms. Akullq said it was a paradox that young people lacked a true understanding of the real meaning of gender equality despite the massive flows of information being disseminated worldwide today.

“The issue is tailored as a women’s problem, not a young people’s problem,” she said, adding that that mindset proved to be a great problem and led to a lack of urgency and inaction on the part of young people.

“Gender inequality was not just a women’s issue, but a human issue,” said Shishir Chandra, a member of Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women in India.  “If men are part of the problem of gender equality, they should be part of the solution as well.” 

However, he said scant opportunities existed in his country for young men to become involved in advancing gender equality, with some barriers to male participation in gender equality campaigns including rigid religious and familial norms that imposed social controls and reinforced stereotypes and inequalities.

Yet, alternative masculinity, which broke from damaging stereotypes, was possible, he implored, and men should join the fight to end violence against women because the issue affected society as a whole.  Change rested in the educational area, he said, highlighting the need for safe forums for young men to discuss gender-related issues.

Indeed, providing civic and gender education was a quintessential step to promoting equality, said Roberto Cárcamo Tapia, a member of the Collective Youth for Gender Equality.  He also stressed that Governments should tailor legislation to address existing problems of violence against women among young couples that were not currently regulated by laws applicable to adults. 

Lamenting that in Chile, 20 per cent of women aged 15 to 29 reported having experienced violence in relationships, he soberly noted that in 10.2 per cent of female killings, the perpetrator was a boyfriend or spouse, with one quarter of such victims being in the 15 to 29 age group.  With that in mind, there should be effective State protection of women victims of violence, with a special focus on youth, he said.

Also taking part in the panel discussion were the representatives of South Africa, Italy, Pakistan, Cameroon, Russian Federation, Senegal, Israel, Switzerland, Paraguay, Germany, Malaysia, Cuba, Gambia, Finland, Denmark, Canada, United States, New Zealand, El Salvador, Japan, Sudan, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Thailand, Jordan, and Turkey.

A representative of the European Union also spoke, as did representatives of civil society organizations.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 7 March, on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

Interactive Panel

The Commission’s panel discussion was chaired by Vice-Chair Filippo Cinti (Italy), and featured five panellists:  Edna Akullq, founder of the non-governmental organization Self Help Foundation Uganda; Roberto Cárcamo Tapia, a member of the Collective Youth for Gender Equality; Shishir Chandra, a member of Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women in India; and Rozaina Adam, a Member of Parliament of the Maldives.

Ms. AKULLQ said it was a paradox that, despite the massive flows of information being disseminated worldwide today, young people lacked a true understanding of the real meaning of gender equality.  “The issue is tailored as a women’s problem, not a young people’s problem,” she stressed, adding that such a mindset proved a great problem — namely, that it led to a lack of urgency and inaction on the part of young people.  Indeed, gender equality was not treated as a priority in society, schools and many other forums.

Addressing representatives directly, she asked:  “how many young delegates did you come [to the current session] with?”  She also asked, “have we missed the opportunity?  Are we involving young people as stakeholders in the cause?” 

Having seen a problem — namely, the large gaps of information in northern Uganda — she herself had decided to act by forming the organization Self Help Uganda.  The team mobilized young people to design a strategy to talk to communities and encourage them to embrace education and send and keep their children in school.  “I started with one idea that turned into an institution,” she said, adding, “let us start something”.

Issuing a number of recommendations, she challenged the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) to continue the fight against gender inequality, and urged the private sector to team up with Governments to provide education for young people.  “Include gender equality as a value taught to children at all levels,” she said, stressing that schools must stop “handing down inequality through generations”, in particular, by providing safety nets to protect against early marriages and school dropouts.  School curriculums should also address the relationship between men and women, she said.

MR. CÁRCAMO TAPIA confirmed the existence of gender-based violence, noting that 20 per cent of women aged 15 to 29 reported having experienced violence in their relationships.  In 10.2 per cent of female deaths, the perpetrator was a boyfriend or spouse.  Distinct characteristics defined that phenomenon among young couples.  For example, one quarter of such female deaths was under age 30.  There should be effective State protection focusing on women victims of violence, with attention to youth.  For its part, his group had conducted a study on women victims of violence aged 15 to 29, with only one quarter reporting that they had sought State assistance.  Respondents had requested greater police response and better care centres for women.  Chile, he noted, was evolving policy on the issue.

He said that another relevant issue was examining young people’s relationships as reflected in the penal code, which referred to adult relationships and excluded younger men and women.  Another aspect to be addressed was the constant promotion by television and advertising of female stereotypes.  Additionally, 87.4 per cent of parliamentarians and an almost even figure, 87 per cent of mayors, were men.  The State could assist in remedying the problem, including by assisting in the establishment of more day-care centres for children.

Student movements over the last few years had made efforts to address and highlight those and other gender issues, he said, noting there was more female participation than ever before.  The Collective Youth for General Equality had taken action to promote gender equality, as that topic was not addressed in schools.  The Collective sought to conduct workshops to promote that area alongside the democratic equality of youths.  The group had conducted workshops to promote women leaders to address the situation among young people and to prevent domestic violence.  It also brought all those concerns to Congress, emphasizing the need to address the issues from a gender perspective.  In Chile, there were a number of related issues to be resolved, including the lack of regulation.  Civic and gender equality education should also be instituted.

Asserting that there were scant opportunities for young men to become involved in advancing gender equality, MR. CHANDRA said young men and boys throughout India also experienced many difficulties in terms of gender inequality and sexual violence, but traditional societal structures discouraged them to be open about those issues.  “If men are part of the problem of gender equality, they should be part of the solution as well,” he said.  “Men should join the fight to end violence against women because this issue does not only concern women, but society as a whole.”

Barriers to male participation in gender equality campaigns included rigid religious and familial norms, which imposed social controls and reinforced stereotypes and inequalities, he said.  Those stereotypes hampered young men’s development, and led to a feeling of failure, which threatened their masculinity.  That, in turn, sometimes led to a belief that problems were solved with physical violence.  In addition, the privilege awarded to boys at birth created expectations and pressure, hampering a boy’s ability to practice love, caring and sharing.  Similarly damaging was society’s stereotype that women should be attracted to domineering and physically strong men, as that too put pressure on men and constrained them by that “constructed” gender role.

He declared that when discourse was absent, gender stereotypes were perpetuated.  Men’s Action for Stopping Violence against Women in India had used a number of approaches to change social attitudes, including film shows, debates, and advocacy.  Change rested, however, in the educational area.  In 1995, his group had pioneered a successful campaign around a case of sexual harassment, which had led to the establishment of an anti-harassment committee on campus.

Studies conducted by the group had shown that men were becoming active in pre- and post-natal care and in contraceptive use.  When given a platform and a safe space to share experiences of gender inequality, “alternative masculinity” was possible.  Steps to strengthen that platform would include sports and youth clubs.  “Gender inequality was not just a women’s issue, but a human issue,” he concluded.

Ms. ADAM, giving a brief background on the Maldivian parliamentary process, said that half of the population of the Maldives was under the age of 25, and nearly 70 per cent was below 35 years-old.  However, only 58 out of 1,091 local council members were women, of which only 45 were under 35 years-old.  In response, the country had adopted the Local Governance Act, which provided an opportunity for women to take part in the decision-making process.  That included the creation of women’s committees, whose members were elected by all the women in particular island, atoll or city.

Youth in the Maldives lacked awareness about gender equality and the role of youth in the political process, she said.  Currently, there was no systematic process for young people to get involved in the legislative process; youth involvement in politics came mostly from the younger parliamentarians.  She stressed the importance of a Youth Act, on which work was under way.  Some of the issues covered in that bill included:  defining ‘youth’, introducing youth committees at different levels of governance; promoting gender equality, with at least 30 per cent female participation in every youth committee; introducing national youth awards; job opportunities for youth; housing and health care for youth; and other elements.

Noting that young women, in particular, faced more obstacles to participation in public life than men, she said that affirmative action measures were needed to change the traditional, historical and cultural attitudes towards realizing the rights of women to run for public office.  That included the establishment of child-care centres and child-friendly work environments.

The responsibility of involving youth in the decision-making process did not lay on the shoulders of any one party.  It was the responsibility of Governments, the private sector and civil society, she stressed.  To that end, the Maldivian Strategic Action Plan 2009-2013 created programmes to empower youth to be responsible, active citizens and contribute to national development.

Question and Comments

During the ensuing discussion, several representatives described national policies and programmes aimed at increasing the participation of youth — in particular, young men — in decision-making processes.  In that regard, the representative of Cuba said that youth in her country participated in government at all levels of society.  A key element of ensuring that participation stemmed from education, which depended not only on schools or universities, but on families to help fundamentally transform the way people thought and behaved.  The challenge was to ensure that those discussions went beyond the family and created the right social patterns.

The representative of the European Union urged the establishment of forums to help young people make their voices heard, particularly in employment and the labour market.  In Europe, schools were overwhelmingly staffed by women, but were managed by men.  Most students were now women and most dropouts were men.  She also called for inclusive development processes in which young men and women played a central role.

Some speakers focused on the role of men and boys in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.  “What is really at the root of the problem is the flawed relationship between women and men”, said the representative of the World Youth Alliance.  Dealing directly with that relationship would help both to rectify imbalances and to prevent future discrimination, he said.  He also asked the panellists what steps were being taken in the creation of national policies to ensure that gender equality was based on the respectful relationship between men and women.

Turning to another crucial element of the participation of men and boys, the representative of Canada said that her country was home to the world’s largest campaign of men and boys working to end violence against women, the White Ribbon campaign.

The representative of Pakistan said men and boys should share the objectives of women’s empowerment and should be educated on the topic.  In Pakistan, some political parties utilized gender-specific wings; young people were moving towards working with the Government on a more equal footing.   Pakistan was also working to address gender equality at the primary-school level.  Similarly, the representative of Cameroon said that separate wings of political parties were available for women and men, as the different genders had specific — and different — needs.  There were gender programmes taught in the country’s universities.

A number of youth representatives also directed questions at the panellists and issued urgent, personal appeals to the Commission, the United Nations system and the international community as a whole.  A representative of the Girl Scouts of the United States, speaking on behalf of a number of organizations, asked the Commission how it could better engage youth when it seemed that the United Nations, in general, was an “unwelcoming” place for them.  For example, there were no grounds passes issued to those who were under the age of 16, she said.

In sharp contrast, she believed that there should be a youth delegate from each country to the Commission on the Status of Women.  She agreed with the panellists that “young people have great ideas, but they have trouble implementing them”.  In that vein, the United Nations system should lead by example by incorporating the voices and ideas of young people.

Responding to Ms. Akullq’s presentation, a representative of the World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides said, “I, myself, want to be a youth entrepreneur,” and asked the panellist how to go about achieving that goal.  She had already launched a project to get youth involved in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, she said; in that vein, she asked the panellists how she could best use technology to boost that initiative.  She said that she felt that the Commission was missing the opportunity to take advantage of youth voices, and that more youth must be included in its deliberations.  She also stressed the need for a universal definition of the term ‘youth’ and asked the panellists for their thoughts on that matter.

Several representatives spotlighted the involvement of youth in social media and other internet forums, with many pointing out that cyberspace provided a good opportunity for productive dialogue with young people.  The representative of Malaysia, for one, stressed the need for government institutions to engage with youth in that unique space.

Ms. ADAM said in a country like the Maldives, men had a lot of influence.  If a man was running for a seat in Parliament, it would be difficult for a woman to also submit her candidacy.  In that light, a women’s parliamentary wing was an idea to bring women forward.  She also said youth was defined in a country based on its culture.  In her country, youth usually became active in the workplace after age 25, before which they lived with their parents.  Youth policies, therefore, needed to focus on young people under the age of 25, making a universal definition of youth difficult. 

She said that if men were involved in women’s committees, they would dominate how their elections played out.  First, women’s committees should be established, followed by a discussion on men’s involvement in them.  Concerning youth parliaments, her country encouraged youths to become familiar with how Parliament worked.  One idea would be for Parliament to send a domestic violence bill to the youth parliamentarians for their comments.

Women could bring about a change in electoral acts, she said, suggesting that help be sought from non-governmental organizations.  In the Maldives, she had tried to bring in a quota bill for Parliament, but men had felt threatened.  Awareness needed to be created before those efforts could be implemented.

Mr. CHANDRA said technology could be used to focus on youth because that was what drew them.  If social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, were used, youths would likely engage.  The dream of gender equality existed.  What was needed was to engage men in the process of attaining that goal.

Mr. CÁRCAMO TAPIA said education in Chile was a broad matter, but one of the issues was linked to the free market.  There was now a disassociation between the usefulness of labour and finding a career path.  Right now, there was a lack of content in education, notably a lack of civic education in the schooling system.  Creating youth parliaments was one solution; however, an effort to do so in Chile had failed.  Youth did not have much trust in political parties.  Social networks and the Internet were tools to promote gender equality; however, in Chile, the means used by young people to express themselves were more traditional, including meetings at student centres or demonstrations.

Labour and gender equality was a serious situation in Chile, he said.  Greater access to child-care facilities was needed to help women to study and work.  Also important was to educate children at an early age.  The university where he had studied offered free child-care for mothers.  There was also a great interest in participating in gender-equality education in secondary schools and serving that population should be explored.

He pointed to legislation as another area for improvement, such as extended maternity leave for women.  However, he added, that caused problems for them in a competitive workplace.  Any legislation aimed at protecting women should not result in hurting them.  Also in Chile, he noted that there was tremendous opposition to addressing sexual education at the primary and secondary school levels. 

Responding to a question about the role of tradition, he said small organizations dealt with gender equality in his country, including a Catholic group of women who addressed traditions in that light.  Much could be done, however, through informal education, including through Scout organizations.

Ms. AKULLQ noted that Uganda’s Constitution recognized youth as those aged 18 to 35, and said there was indeed a need to redefine “youth” based on demographics.  To better support young people, Governments should address a range of areas and involve youth.  They should also invest in families and parenting.  Young people today, including in Uganda, were finding jobs, and they should be included in activities aimed at creating employment, she added.

The Chair then asked for one example of a short, concrete action to recommend to policymakers to better engage young people in promoting gender issues.  Ms. ADAM said a quota would help.  She also mentioned that a young representative today had noted that the United Nations was not giving enough opportunities to participate.  “It was time to consider this,” she said, adding that one youth for each delegation should be included in this Commission.  “It’s time we included more young people in our conferences.”

Mr. CHANDRA said primary school curriculums should absolutely include gender education, while Mr. CARCAMO TAPIA said that to complement education, inequality and all forms of violence must be eradicated.  There was a need for prevention measures, as well as for addressing domestic violence with a specific focus on youth, for instance, establishing centres for young women victims of violence.

Ms. AQULLQ added that Governments should invest in families.

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For information media • not an official record