Nothing less than equality and a seat at the table for youth

At a global virtual event co-hosted by UN Women and ITU, youth activists imagine a “new normal” where diverse youth have a seat at the table to shape policy and decisions.


UN Women, in collaboration with ITU (the UN agency for information and communication technologies), and youth and gender equality activists around the world, celebrated International Youth Day on 12 August with a virtual event. Co-hosted by international activist and Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi, the event featured performances by international artists and vibrant conversations about social justice, peace and security and the impact of COVID-19 on youth.

Opening the event, Zozi welcomed participants and shared her thoughts on what International Youth Day meant to her. Young leaders from Japan (Satoko Yamaguchi ), Kenya (Kathy Kyler), South Africa (Munnira Katongele), and the United States of America (Ayanna Depas) also shared their visions for Youth Day.

Following a musical performance by Maia Reficco (Argentinian-American singer) and a message from the Beijing +25 Youth Task Force, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka reminded youth leaders and audiences that while UN Women was still “a young girl, [of] ten years old, [it is] made up of people with many years of fighting for gender equality.” In her remarks, the Executive Director stressed the need for intergenerational collaboration. “We are encouraged by your radical impatience; it is most refreshing. We need you to be at the table where decisions are being made…in the streets…on the podiums,” she said.

Fire-chat conversations were led by UN Secretary-General’s Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake and Hajer Sharief, human rights activist and the co-founder of “Together we build it”.

In a conversation with Ms. Wickramanayake about activism and intersectionality during COVID-19, youth activists highlighted the importance of responsible storytelling to inspire and mobilize action, and to prevent the erasure of diverse youth voices.

“Every activist has a story to tell, and every story has a solution to give, and every solution has a life to change,” said youth climate justice activist, Vanessa Nakate (Uganda).

Samantha Paige Davis, Black Swan Academy Founder and Executive Director (USA), spoke about the importance of intersectionality: “When you start recognizing the layers of identity, it allows us to create solutions that meet the most marginalized among us. [And] when you centre the voices, the experiences and stories of the most marginalized in our communities, then we all benefit.”

The panelists concluded by sharing their vision of post-pandemic “new normal”. Ines Yabar, activist from Peru, emphasized the need for change, action and solidarity, making sure that diverse youth have space at the table to make the decisions that shape their lives.

The second panel discussion focusing on peace and security featured . Fatima Askira, Founder/Executive Director of Borno Women Development Initiative; Juanita Ibanez Santamaria, Colombian political scientist; and Mallika Iyer, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders. According to Malika Iyer, “gender equality is inextricably linked to conflict prevention, sustainable peace and women’s empowerment.” A gender equal world must also be peaceful, she said, adding that, “peace cannot just be defined as an absence of war or armed conflict, but should include human security, harmonious government and good governance.”

The panellists agreed that upcoming anniversaries and milestones for women’s rights and peace and security, such as the UN Security Council resolution 1325 (adopted in 2000), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (adopted in 1995), the 10th anniversary of UN Women and 75th birthday of the United Nations, offer opportunities to push for transformative changes on the ground.

Award-winning performers and spoken word artists, such as 25 May Movement, Malkia Band, Yvonne H+, Maia Reficco Viqueira, Manizha, and Masha Brodskaya, also participated at the virtual event.

The event closed with a call to action by youth outlining 5 demands: gender equal Legislation, women in leadership and policy making positions, ending gender based violence, equal access to education; and, youth leadership”