I got my passport when I turned 18. Holding it with my flight ticket at the Indira Gandhi international airport immigration counter was an indescribable feeling. This journey would be filled with firsts; starting with my first time travelling alone, my first international trip and most importantly my first international conference, my first time at the UN conference centre and my first time meeting foreign dignitaries and officials—all by myself. I was excited for every step ahead.
Restless Development gave me this amazing opportunity, to be with a bunch of young people from all over Asia-Pacific for two days.
Everything was organised in such a way that each session included all 85 of us. To introduce ourselves to each other we performed our cultural dances. It was so much fun to see so many different dance forms, from completely different cultures—all together. The first session began with a brief explanation of the ICPD Conference held 25 years ago in Cairo, where 179 governments adopted the Programme of Action and called for women’s reproductive health and rights to take centre stage in national and global development efforts. It was really inspiring to know that, even before I was born, countries were preparing to make the world a better place for me and all the girls to come.
Then there was a quiz. I really learnt a lot and it was very eye-opening. For instance, did you know?
- 43% of adolescent pregnancies in Asia are unintended
- 45% of adolescent girls in South Asia believe that a man is justified in hitting his wife
- 33 million of the 71 million unemployed young people in the world live in Asia-Pacific
I didn’t. These statistics did not just astonish me, every young person in the room was surprised to see the numbers telling such a different story to the one we had expected. One participant even stood up and said ‘Numbers don’t lie and it’s high time we start working towards revoking these numbers’. It was alarming to know that even after 25 years since the Programme of Action was taken up, we are yet to reach the targets.
As my focus area is gender based violence under gender inequality, the Asia-Pacific data shook me. It reminded me how in the community I work with, in Harkesh Nager, Delhi where women are not given equal respect and rights, in one of my community discussions with women, the majority had accepted it as the rightful duty of their husbands to hit them if they are not performing their household chores, or not looking after their children or in-laws or worst of all, if they talk to any male from outside the family.
The insights from my community work helped a lot when we were making problem trees and solutions charts. During the process everyone got an opportunity to share the work they have been doing in their respective countries and communities, which again proved to be an immense learning experience. I learnt how severe a problem child marriage is in Bangladesh, how even laws pertaining to it says that a 16 year old can be married off if her parents approve of the wedding, and how loopholes like these in the laws have led to a rise in child marriages. Then a friend from Bhutan shared that though the government boasts of giving comprehensive sexual education at school level, in reality they are given life sciences classes where no in-depth subject education is shared. And a friend from Pakistan shared how the government there has, even after so many campaigns and summits, done little for people living with HIV, especially the migrant population, as they always go unnoticed. This activity re-ignited in all of us that we, as young leaders, can still do so much more to overcome the issues we are facing. We also posted it on our Instagram accounts, as a reminder to ourselves and the world—we can do it together!
The whole conference was a memorable and a wonderful experience. I was fortunate to be among the few who got to discuss, share and learn so much from other young people across the Asia-Pacific region. As they say “Firsts are best because they are beginnings.” The work done by many has inspired and motivated me so much, that every learning from this conference I would want to use to reach out to my community in bringing awareness and change. I also hope the recommendations and suggestions given compiled from this Youth Consultation does play an important role in the Nairobi summit starting on the 12th November 2019, so we ‘LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND’.