Youth involvement was a key theme evident throughout most of the events scheduled to commemorate the 56th annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The youth are no longer simply serving as a topic of discussion. Instead, they are given the ability to facilitate these discussions and contribute based upon their own personal experiences. Many of the atrocities that women face, begin early in their lives when they are just young girls. Therefore, it is important to recognize these young victims and account for their voices when formulating strategies to confront these universal problems impacting women.
The youth played a vital role in the second panel discussion I attended. The panel discussion titled, “Promoting Connection through Advocacy: The International Role of Youth in Empowering Rural Women” was hosted by the East StroudsburgSouth High School UN ASPIRE group. This group of motivated, intelligent, young women and men is comprised of students from both the East Stroudsburg South High School and East Stroudsburg University. They are participants in the United Nations: Academic Impactinitiative, which “aligns students from institutions of higher education with the United Nations in actively supporting ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, literacy, sustainability and conflict resolution.”
Following a brief introduction by their teacher and advisor, Michael Healey, the students led the audience through a very engaging, educational experience. They engaged the audience in a discussion on the novel, Half The Sky by authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Half The Sky inspired these students to take action to change the conditions (prostitution, human trafficking, forced marriages, limited/no access to education) faced by millions of women on a daily basis.
During the panel discussion, the students would introduce one of the women highlighted in the novel by sharing their stories and how they fit into a larger issue. Two of these larger issues are trafficking of women, who are forced into prostitution and female genital mutilation, which often results in fistulas. The panel would then ask the audience to form smaller groups to discuss the reasons why women continue to face these horrible conditions in 2012. Many audience members were surprised to hear about the conditions that continue to normalize these atrocities. For example, many were not aware of the role that drugs and addiction play in the prostitution industry in developing countries.
These students created an outstanding presentation. They showed that regardless of your age, one could play a pivotal role in addressing these global problems. By educating young women and men about the horrible realities that exist in the world, we are motivating them to take a stand against these conditions by raising awareness.