Photo essay: They were not at the Beijing Conference, but...


The four young leaders spoke at a panel on “Gender equality and youth: 20 years since the Beijing Platform for Action and onwards to a post-2015 development framework”, organized by UN Women as part of the ECOSOC Youth Forum in New York on 3 February. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Some were not even born in 1995. That was the year when the 20-year-old Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action took shape. But their voices are no less relevant. Four passionate youth activists shared what gender equality means to them. We weave together some of their ideas for action and thoughts on what the Beijing Platform for Action means to them –a generation later– and how youth are a part of that change.

From Kenya, 23-year-old Vivian Onano, is Education Spokesperson for Moremi Africa, Member of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group and Global Youth Ambassador for “A World at School”. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

QuoteThis is a conversation for everyone and every voice matters. Most of the time conversations happen here and remain here, but it’s our responsibility to bring these conversations to the field, to the community, create open discussions and encourage all youth – women and men – to be engaged and to contribute. … I’m here because I believe that my voice counts. For a long time gender equality has been discussed under the table and I want to bring it on the top of the table… I am optimistic. I think we will have gender equality by 2030. I am not giving it any other option. I am taking it in my hands.”  — Vivian Onano

From Bolivia, 25-year-old Mirna Ines Fernández is a Professor at EMI University, and Member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

QuoteYoung people are the protagonists of thinking out of the box. They can themselves create new definitions of what is masculinity and femininity, and break the stereotypes that are root causes of gender inequality. My vision of gender equality is a world where girls and young woman can be themselves, develop their leadership skill without any fears. It is important that we take into account the deeper causes of gender inequality.- Governments need to make mechanisms available to hold them accountable, but we as youth, have a critical role to hold them accountable.”— Mirna Ines Fernández

From Sri Lanka, 24-year-old Dakshitha Wickremarathne is a social worker and Member of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

QuoteThe conversation about gender equality has to start early, really early. Why don’t we talk about this in kindergarten? … I was five years old when the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted. I see a lot of changes in the last 20 years. To start with, gender equality has become a lot less controversial than it used to be, and people are more open to talking about it, although not as much as we would want them to. … Does gender equality matter to a man? Yes, because the inequality is a loss for us both. … There are people who are looking up to you, who would want to become you, one day. Be the change you want to be and the world will change.”— Dakshitha Wickremarathne

From Zimbabwe, 17-year-old Melissa Ruvimbo Kubvoruno is Member of the Rozario Memorial Trust and of the World Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

QuoteGender inequality starts with a little girl wanting to play with cars and not with dolls, or a little boy forced to play with cars when he’d actually want to play with dolls. It’s about the simple things. … For me, it means that I can study physics if I want to, without my teacher telling me that it is a boy’s subject. … We are 860 million young women and girls living in developing nations. We are more than a statistic. We are 860 million dreams, 860 million voices and we have the power to make a difference! … Change needs to happen in the smallest places, in the most tangible ways. We need to talk with traditional leaders. We need to approach them along with men, so that they see that gender equality is not a woman’s issue.” — Melissa Ruvimbo Kubvoruno

These ideas from the four activists echo youth voices from across the globe, millions of young boys and girls who work every day to galvanize their communities on gender equality, why it matters, and what needs to be done. These four young leaders spoke at a panel called “Gender equality and youth: 20 years since the Beijing Platform for Action and onwards to a post-2015 development framework”, organized by UN Women as part of the ECOSOC Youth Forum 2015. Read a summary of their key messages delivered at the Forum.

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