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‘I’m Determined to Break the Barriers I’m Facing Because I’m a Female’

We asked young leaders at Women Deliver to share their biggest challenges, and how they’re preparing.

By Katie Hyslop 7 Jun 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop is a staff reporter for The Tyee. Find her previous stories here.

There is no shortage of issues impacting women, girls and non-binary people all over the world today: climate change, reproductive rights, sexual violence, access to comprehensive sexual health education and services, poverty, access to food, just to name a few.

For those who are impacted directly by these issues, it can be hard to single out the most urgent to solve. But with nearly one-quarter of the world’s population between the ages of 15 to 25 — at almost 2 billion it’s the world’s largest ever generation of youth — young people have a lot of power to effect change.

So which issues do young women believe should be prioritized? And — more than a century since feminism’s first wave was born — how are they preparing themselves for the possible decades of fighting to come for their voices to be heard?

The Tyee asked six young women and non-binary leaders at the Women Deliver 2019 conference, the world’s largest gender equity conference held this week in Vancouver, for their thoughts on these questions. Their responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Who: Khadija Khan

Age: 18

From: Washington, D.C., USA

Title: International and Muslim youth leadership councils manager, Advocates for Youth

What’s the biggest issue facing women and girls today in your opinion?

The biggest thing on my mind is just building futures that seem safe and healthy and viable. Instead of feeling like it’s an unethical thing to even consider bringing children into the world right now, how can we think about removing current barriers and also creating futures for families and just people in general, including those who are already being killed every day, already marginalized based off of their race, gender?

How are you preparing for the fight ahead?

What I’ve had to do, to be transparent, in the last two years is kind of step away from a lot of the intense, on-the-ground activism organizing work, because it is so exhausting. It’s made it impossible for me to live a personally healthy life, because these issues are so real and so intense that if you are awake, aware, present and paying attention to all the shit going on, it’s a little too much.

I’ve turned more internally and started to build my own perfect world in my own community. I’m an artist, so I’m focusing on having a queer, person of colour-centred artist community so that we can support each other, and for a moment we can all live in our own world where all the bad shit doesn’t really exist. I’m preparing for this by really grounding myself and being able to have glimpses of what a better life looks like.

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Name: Skyla Barahona

Age: Under 25

From: Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Title: Former youth in care, team member at Fostering Change

What’s the biggest issue facing women and girls today in your opinion?

I would say our rights as women are being attacked. I heard yesterday with Prime Minister [Justin Trudeau], he was speaking about how his cabinet is 50/50 [gender balanced], and he’s great and all these things because he’s trying so hard. And it was just like all lies to me. It felt incredibly disrespectful to be in this space and just say ‘We’re working on this and it’s great!’ I feel like especially Indigenous women are being attacked, and their rights. It’s a lot, and it’s pretty brutal.

How are you preparing for the fight ahead?

Honestly, I get exhausted. I just write sad Twitter notes about how everything is ruined. But also, I prepare myself by being protected by a wall of women and seeing their power, what they do in community, and it gives me the energy I need to leave my bed.

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Name: Manasa Priya Vasudevan

Age: 27

From: Delhi, India

Title: Programme manager, Know Your Body, Know Your Rights; The YP Foundation

What’s the biggest issue facing women and girls today in your opinion?

Financing is definitely an issue that impacts adolescents and youth in a huge way. Like when we’re talking about how the global [gender wage] gap and the global deficit in funding impacts youth-led organizations, [they] become even more vulnerable than they were in terms of getting money. Because when the pot gets that much smaller, the worst hit are your most marginalized organizations: youth-led organizations.

I think it’s really important for us to start investing in core funding for youth-led organizations, young feminist organizations, and women’s funds to be able to allow for them to distribute that pot horizontally… for a more sustainable future and movement building. Because if governments are so fickle, we need the movements to raise those issues outside.

I hear a lot of my young feminist sisters say the same thing across panels about how they’ve been funding their education through per diems [they receive] to come here to conferences. It’s definitely a very dire situation that we put ourselves in by not taking the responsibility to break those hierarchies within funding structures.

How are you preparing for the fight ahead?

It’s fortunate, yet unfortunate that most of us run on a lot of passion. This for me, Women Deliver, is like a break. Just think and re-strategize, and do that at least once in six months, to be really able to come together and re-strategize. I think that we need to be able to strategically do that across platforms and more often. That helps then re-fuel my passion, because I still think passion will be the strongest fuel that I run on for the next 30 years as an activist. Unless the global financing order changes, since that’s one of the biggest problems.

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Name: Angela Benedicto

Age: 32

From: Tanzania

Title: WoteSawa Young Domestic Workers Organization

What’s the biggest issue facing women and girls today in your opinion?

Gender-based violence is still a challenge. Stereotypes are still a challenge facing young women, especially from rural areas, especially from underdeveloped countries. Those issues lead to sexual violence.

By stereotypes I mean when men try to dominate everything, and when women are not given chances to decide on their bodies and depend on what men decide.

How are you preparing for the fight ahead?

Reading, taking examples [from others] and to break all those obstacles, like [the belief that] men are the ones who must lead. For me, I prepare myself by breaking all those obstacles: women should take a lead, take example and we should be examples. We have seen the [first female] president from Ethiopia here, so we young women need to learn from all those women who are taking a lead.

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Name: Nicole Willemse

Age: 24

From: Namibia

Title: founder and editor, Blessed Is She

What’s the biggest issue facing women and girls today in your opinion?

Speaking from Namibia’s perspective, it’s the lack of opportunities. We know our rights, we know what’s wrong, what’s right, we know what we deserve. But there are no opportunities. Sometimes governments will tell us there are opportunities, but we don’t have access to the information about the opportunities.

And today I’m standing here because I did research myself to find out what’s happening internationally for young adolescent women, and that’s how I found out about Women Deliver. But these opportunities aren’t created for us, our governments aren’t sponsoring us to come to international platforms like this. So for me, definitely, it’s opportunities.

How are you preparing for the fight ahead?

Platforms like these are amazing. I’ve learned so much in the past three days that I’ve been here. I’ve been so inspired for the next three years; I can’t wait for the next Women Deliver. I’m just preparing myself with information, creating opportunities for myself. We heard it over and over again at this conference that you need to stop asking for a seat at the table and just take it. And that’s basically what I’m doing: I’m going to take my seat and pull out other seats for other young women by creating opportunities for them to join me around the table.

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Name: Steph Lum

Age: 26

From: Australia

Title: board co-chair, Intersex Human Rights Australia

What’s the biggest issue facing women and girls today in your opinion?

A lot of pressure to look a certain way and to perform certain functions and roles. And when it comes to intersex women, that means physically changing against their will, often, parts of their body. Often with a heteronormative framework behind it and a transphobic mentality behind how your body has to look a certain way to have a certain gender, and it’s really damaging for intersex girls and women around the world.

How are you preparing for the fight ahead?

The intersex movement is a relatively young movement. We’ve had some advances, but we’re still very much in that initial stage, and trying to collaborate and build connections with these other movements who have been here for so long. But intersex women have always existed, it’s just that they didn’t have the language to talk about it. So, we want to build these connections, get greater awareness, and then together we can work towards that.

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Name: Bitania Lulu Berhanu

Age: 25

From: Ethiopia

Title: International branches coordinator, Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa

What’s the biggest issue facing women and girls today in your opinion?

Patriarchy, obviously. Patriarchal society and the system are broken in the thinking that women are not fit enough, or they have to work twice, four times as hard just to prove themselves in any position. The system of patriarchy is really bringing down women. And it’s making us stronger because we have to fight for our seat, to go up to where we have to go.

How are you preparing for the fight ahead?

What keeps me going is the vision I set. I love change, I love seeing change, I love impacting people, regardless of what gender I am. And I’m determined to break the barriers I’m facing because I’m a female, because of the bigger vision that I have to impact my society and uplift the continent in general.  [Tyee]

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