As a member of the Commonwealth Youth and Gender Equality Network (CYGEN) I chose to take part in the Social Agenda working group at the CHOGM Youth Forum in Malta. The priority for me was to ensure that matters relating to gender equality and young people – all young people and people of all gender identities – are immersed deeply into the outcomes and recommendations of the Youth Forum. Specifically, that matters relating to CYGEN Gender Five are delivered to the Heads of Government once the Youth Forum concludes.
For the next five days I am bombarded with new information and perspectives, many beyond my own comprehension. It is overwhelming, but welcomed. I am here to push an agenda, but I am also here to optimize on challenging my own ideas of what a peaceful society looks like. To my enjoyment, discussions ranged broadly and were purposeful, intending to build on consultations conducted by the out-going Commonwealth Youth Council members. Recommendations brought to delegates were typical in their layout – a mass of ideas pushed uncomfortably together for the sake of a two sentence maximum, as is standard for such proceedings – and displayed not only the collective needs of young people, but also the dexterity and understanding that younger members of the Commonwealth have.
On the first day, I was selected to take part in the drafting committee for The Social Agenda. It was an opportunity to take the strategies suggested by fellow delegates, in this case for inclusive and accessible education, and form action plans to support the relevant recommendations. Access to education, as we know, is fundamental to bolstering peace and security. Further to this, when we ensure the accessibility of participation in education by women and girls, and recognise the skills developed by young people outside of formal learning environments, we positively affect change in our countries.
In addition to working groups, the Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC) had called for the election of nine new members to continue representing the youth voice over the next two years. Out of the 47 candidates across all available seats, less than a quarter of these candidates self-identified as women. Representation and participation are of fundamental importance if we are to achieve gender equality, and what comes with that is the development upon equity standards and processes to ensure it can indeed occur from the start. Equity, for me, means the re-distribution of resources and opportunities, ensuring that women, girls and those of us from gender minorities are able to actively participate in spaces such as councils. In short, we give those who need more, more, and those who need less, less. Of course, in the space of gender – in both concept and reality – we cannot assume that one’s gender identity alone is the defining point at which we begin and end when working within equity frameworks. To do so would be dismissive of other identity characteristics, such as culture, faith, class, colour, ability, and the myriad more that impact deeply with our gender. So I offered my assistance in lobbying for these women to be seen and heard in the CYC; they deserved better representation of the issues that mattered to them, and conversely, did not deserve to be dismissed because they are women.
Because of their tenacity, courage, and most importantly, because they were the best candidates, four women were elected to the CYC. Five men, who also believe that the lives of women, girls, and people of diverse genders matter, were also elected to council. For many of us, we call this a victory. It isn’t equal, and there are many voices that are missing in action, but it is progress. It is a worthwhile congratulating these candidates, while pushing them to uphold their values and intentions as spoken during the pre-election. Progress is always worth celebrating.
My message to fellow young people, particularly those who feel they are often left out of the conversations held in spaces such as CHOGM and the Youth Forum, is to push yourself to be involved if you can. The opportunity to hear experiences from those who live them, to be active in a space where your thoughts and experiences matter, to fight for something that you believe in, is powerful. I’ve left the Youth Forum with an awareness I cannot gain from books, and colleagues and friends I may not have met otherwise. I have played part in achieving something that matters, small by inevitable comparison, but entirely worthwhile.
Your voice matters, and it deserves to be heard. Get it out there.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Commonwealth Society