Days three and four of the Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network Forum started with high profile speakers on gender in the Commonwealth: Kemi Ogunsanya, Head of the Gender Division at the Commonwealth Secretariat gave a lecture on women in peacebuilding, talking about how women and girls were often seen as victims but had the power to transform their position. She also spoke of the need for more and more courageous women; invoking the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner she said, “Malala is an image of what we wish to be. We need to groom more Malalas to have that voice.”
Penny Williams, Australian Global Fellow in Women, Peace and Security at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, started day four by talking about her advocacy on violence against women. She also spoke of improvements in how violence and gender were discussed. “We’re having a national conversation on that in Australia as it’s critical that the issue is opened up. I think we can see that across the Commonwealth, across the Pacific, people are starting to talk about this issue. Part of it is education. Men standing up against violence against women is a very powerful tool to use.”
In the evening, delegates had the opportunity to attend the launch of the Commonwealth Youth Forum to be held in November in Malta. Delegates heard messages from the Commonwealth Youth Council, Youth Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Education Minister of Malta. Young people from across the Commonwealth were challenged to send their priorities to Commonwealth Governments using the twitter hashtag #Whatnext . Everyone can tweet their priorities for the Commonwealth using the hashtag and they will be collated and taken to the Commonwealth Youth Forum in November.
Inspired by these messages, the delegates have been busy drafting priorities and recommendations for the Commonwealth on gender. The participants have been articulating a youth perspective on some of the most crucial gender-related issues facing the Commonwealth including youth transitions, sexual and reproductive health and rights, child marriage, governance and sexual orientation and gender identity. At the closing of the forum they will present their conclusions to HE the President of Malta using them as a basis for challenging the Commonwealth and its governments to take action on improving the lives of citizens of all ages across the Commonwealth.
A delegate from Kenya sums up her experience of the fourth day:
"Today’s session on Advocacy was amazing, and eye-opening. Many times we
tend to lean towards speaking to the believers and supporters; to have the easier conversations. However, to create real change, difficult discussions must be had, and we must step out of our comfort zones. Grassroots organizing and engagement is the key to effective advocacy and impact creation, especially in women and girls’ rights. The Youth Transitions framework is finally forming up and all the hard work and discussions are down on paper. I must say, I am very optimistic."
Another delegate from Bangladesh tells us more about how CYGEN will feed into the future Commonwealth framework:
"Over the last four days the forum has provided space for youth experts to form working groups on different key issues and after closely working in teams they were able to draft concrete policy recommendations that shall be communicated to the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting upcoming in November in Malta, with the aim of adoption by the national governments and Commonwealth secretariat for better lifestyle and human rights of young people living in the 53 Commonwealth countries.