CSW 2010 Looking Back, Looking Forward: Strategies to Promote Young Women and Girls’ Activism

By World YWCA staff Sarah Davies

I attended a very interesting panel today at CSW 2010 on young women and girls and their role in development. Co-organised by AWID, IWHC, CREA and Women’s Forum of Kyrgyzstan, the strategy session invited women’s rights and development organisations and youth activists to identify concrete strategies and share good practices that can be applied to initiatives focused on young women and girls.

It was agreed that there is greater acceptance of the importance of young women and girls in development work but the panel also raised some interesting reflections on how and why we include young women and girls as development actors.

When panelists were asked some of the principles they have for working with young women the responses were diverse as:

–          Realisation that young women have particular needs

–          Movement building aspect to engaging with young women

–          Multigenerational approach is critical if we are to truly address gender equality

–          There is also culture specificity when working with young women. Rights are universal but their application in cultural contexts is very important

–          Participatory process is key  – there must be a personal connection to young women and girls

–          Involvement of young women who have new and creative ways to find solutions to they problems they face

–          Full engagement of young women in the problem solving process

–          Young women need to be involved in the institutional processes of their organisations to ensure succession

There were also reflections around the issues of young women and tokenism. Some organisations tend to see young people as part of their constituency but the problems begin when that young person comes in and leads a programme. The same can also be said of minorities such as lesbians and indigenous women – power struggle between generations begin.

The issues of young women can also be pigeon holed. Young women only lead young women’s’ programmes and young women staff get given the youth work but we should be adopting strategies in our programmes and movements where young women can lead ANY programmes.

When asked what principles should be avoided when working with young women and girls, the following was said:

–          Empowerment programmes that are about individual self empowerment can alienate young people from their peers. Taking an individualistic approach can have a negative effect

–          Strategies that really work are when young women are empowered to influence communities around them

–           UN agencies are now targeting vulnerable youth groups such as IDU’s, HIV positive youth and sex workers which is important but policymakers need to address the diverse youth needs as youth in a holistic manner.

–          There is a big difference between youth led organisations and NGOs working for young people – this should be explored and acknowledged more.

What was also interesting was that CREA has a staff that is made up mostly of young women under 30 and the majority of them are leading programmes. As the panelist said –  it helps us practice what we preach.

The AWID panel was a thought provoking session to attend as it raised a lot of questions and reflections about tokenism and some of the intergenerational stereotypes and clichés we are all guilty of indulging in from time to time. It was also one of the few panels I have attended where the majority if panelists were young women – so well done to AWID and their partners for keeping it real.