In New York,
Young women from various countries, mainly Africa, attending the largest global gender equality meeting at the UN headquarters in New York say they want to have more freedom in taking decisions that concern their lives.
They also want “open’’ dialogue on critical issues affecting them including issues which in most African communities are considered “difficult’’ and “taboo’’ such as sex education.
Speaking at different forums, they also called on governments to be flexible on the age a young person can register an organisation which they can use to agitate for rights and issues that affect the youth.
It was observed that in most countries, at least for those who spoke, a person can only register a non-governmental organisation at 18 years, when one is considered an adult.
The young women have holding discussions in forums exclusively addressed by them but attended by a multi-generation audience where they recounted challenges that face youthful women and girls especially those living in rural areas of Africa.
The young women’s gatherings have been attracting youthful audiences from all over the world and their counterparts from the US, mainly in college. Some of the US young women and girls appeared mesmerised and shocked by tales of hardships and challenges that their counterparts especially in Africa, go through daily, to get education, for instance even as they remain resilient.
Clearly touched after a presentation by Kenya’s Christine Terina, about the situation of young women and some of the girls in Samburu and the daily hardships they have to go through and two from Mozambique, a youthful girl stood up pensively:
“As a 16-year-old girl from the US, what can I do to help those girls?’’ she posed. A young woman from Liberia, responded that an exchange program between youth from both sides of the world would help in learning and sharing of experiences.
The young women singled out lack of information especially on sexual health and reproductive rights, challenges of culture and traditions compounded with harmful practices such as Genital Female Mutilation (FGM), as some of the problems that affect young women and girls especially those who live in the rural areas. Other challenges cited early pregnancies and child marriages and related complications such as obstetric fistula. They young women were also unanimous on the need for open discussions on the thorny issues of sex and abortion.
Ms Terina, Project Director of Samburu based Lulu Community Empowerment, spoke of how girls and young women in the county endure difficulties as they balance domestic chores and seeking education.
In some of the county’s areas, girls have to walk about 20km after school, in search of water for domestic use, in addition to other work such as cooking for the family, cleaning, washing clothes and has to do homework.
But the most difficult and heart breaking, she told participants at the forum organized by the African Womens’ Development and Communication Network (Femnet) at the Salvation Army Auditorium in New York City, was lack of access by girls to sanitary towels. This compounded by the water problem, has seen lots of girls dropping out of school, she said.
“We are now seeking for support to build a boarding school for such girls in Samburu,’’ said Terina. “This, for a start, will help minimize this otherwise major challenge.’’
However, on the positive side, girls and young women have been inspired by the election and nomination of women to powerful political positions such as governors and “they look up to them.’’
“They are also inspired by female teachers, activists, university students from such hardship areas who work hard to improve their situation and fight for their rights. They see them as role models and it gives them the motivation to push on,’’ Christine, dressed in colorful Samburu traditional attire, told her audience.
Ms Charllot Khensany, a 19-year-old activist from Mozambique singled out sexual harassment of school girls as “alarming’’ h in the country and especially in the rural area’s public schools.
“Most of such teachers, when they are punished, the simply get transferred. And that is it,’’ said Khesany, an advisor for youth for FRIDA, a feminist fund.
She explained that safety of girls in schools especially when they have to go and study at night was “a big issue’’ that has to be dealt with.
Ms Khensany also singled out early drop out of schools and child marriages, lack of information as some of the problems affecting girls in her country.
Her colleague, Ms Mangi Macaucau of the Young Women Feminist Movement cited HIV/Aids, violation of girls’ and young womens’ sexual rights as a big issue that they are agitating against as well as lack of education.
“A big number of girls and young women especially in rural areas have had their sexual rights so violated that they have come to accept it as normal,’’ says the 24-year old Macaucau.
“These, no longer have dreams of a better live because in addition to having been forced into early marriages and dropping out of school, they have to endure domestic violence,’’ adds the young activist.
“FGM is a big issue in Liberia. It has hit hard girls living in the rural areas. While we want to respect our culture and traditions, we young women are pleading that our consent be sought and this violation of young women’s rights must stop.
“But we are determined to rise and seek to have our rights respected,’’ said the 20-year-old Liberian.
At another forum called Nhanga Binti, “a safe space for young women and girls’’ to speak out their minds, the youthful feminists were doing just that.
“We live constantly live through anxiety and we must be bold and call a spade a spade, calling out issues as they are,’’ says youthful Ms Nailedi of Soul City Institute in South Africa and a radio presenter of a program called “Not Yet Uhuru.”
The 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which ends on March 23, and the world, will apparently see and hear more from these youthful activists and feminists, some who have barely settled on in college, never mind that they are mostly speaking at “side events.’’