by Meriam Sabih
The briefing on "Young Women's Leadership and Voices at the UN" started off with one of the panelists Aasha Shaik, a 17 year old from Rutgers University singing, "Tick Tock" an anthem she wrote for the "International Day of the Girl." She then went on to ask, "Why girl's rights?" Do girl's rights fall under women's rights or children rights? When girl's rights are lumped into women's rights then often issues such as child marriage can be sidelined.
When girls rights are lumped together with children's rights they often resources can go to boys she said. It is simply a stereotype that girls are not interested in leadership and the problems of the world around them. But we need to provide more pathways for girl's to become involved and bring girl's to the table. There are various ways of marginalization that girls face that are already twofold; gender and age but also includes race, religion, and more...these stereotypes are only compounded in girls of color from marginalized communities. Girls need to be aware that they deserve opportunities. And good leaders are those who have people around them do great thing, the focus is the impact they have on others. "It's important to acknowledge our own privilege," Shaik said. Once that privilege is acknowledged she encouraged young women to confront it and reach out to help someone who does not have such privilege. She spoke of the girl advocate program to represent girls at the United Nations through The Working Group on Girls (WWG) and were instrumental at assuring the Sustainable Development Goals are not discriminatory for girls.
Lehigh University student Renu Zhu was the moderator for the briefing. She spoke of various programs that teach a nuanced view of global affairs and fostering feminist engagement. The briefing was also intended tostress the importance of intergenerational conversation. The target of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to achieve women’s rights, but cannot do that without ending inequalities, social justice and creating more democratic spaces.
Alina Saba, from the National Indigenous Women Forum (NWIF) a group that works for the political and economic empowerment indigenous women, said we must question deep structural biases. This even includes why some countries are richer than others and have more access to resources than others. Aishwarya Narasimhadevara, NGO Youth Representative for the Medical Women's International Association said that collaboration is important and it also starts with us being true to ourselves. "We can all come together and use our gifts to create a better society," stated Narasinhadavera.
Another powerful speaker Noluthando Nzimande, started her activism at the age of 12. “If you don’t open the space it will not be used," she exclaimed. She said it was the NGO in her country of South Africa that really cared about allowing the young person to speak for themselves. She said it was important not focus on telling them what’s wrong, but letting them analyze issues for themselves and come to their own conclusions.“Today I'm 23 and I don’t have a child...my work has prepared me to have my own voice and my own rights. I think at this age is more important than being a mother. My work at the UN has been amazing experience. I can stand in front of a minister even from my country and tell them what I think," she said. She advised that impact of leadership should not only be "on the black and white report" but the impact and results should be visible in the people you are working with. "Each of us has a duty to turn our male counterparts as Womanists. We need to take the responsibility to educate others. To the UN we appreciate you but you need to open more space to marginalized groups. We are just accommodated in someone else’s space," Nzimande said. She reminded us that there is a way in which 1+4=6. It is when Goal #1 Eradicating Poverty plus Goal # 2 Education equals Goal #6 which is Peace. And surely a lot more needs to be done to not only treat girls as equals but even at places like the UN, more should be done to empower young female leadership and make more spaces for marginalized groups to feel welcome and heard.