Only youth movements which embrace feminism can deliver the sort of intersectional mass mobilisation required to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, says Sodfa Daaji.
We now have only a decade to deliver the Global Goals and despite the progress that has been made in several countries, the road to achieving the 17 targets is still long. To make this a Decade of Action means mobilising everyone, everywhere, while demanding urgency and ambition, through a supercharge of ideas to solutions. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, recognised this in 2019 when he called on all sectors of society to mobilise; globally, locally and personally.
Youth Movements have demonstrated their ability, their creativity, both online and offline to bring about this sort of mobilisation. Especially informal movements and groups led by youth such as Vision in Action (VIACAM ) which offers youth-friendly services for HIV/AIDS testing as well as Sexual & Reproductive Health information and services through community sensitisation, including the distribution of sanitary pads in schools to prevent the drop out of adolescent girls from school due to menstruation. They have done all this despite shrinking civic spaces, and lack of funding allocated to youth organisations.
Youth Movements will be pivotal in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. However, further boldness is needed from Youth Movements to embrace feminism. It is time to intersect women’s rights into our values, actions, missions and objectives. This will not only further empower young women and support them to take the lead but strengthen our movement by ensuring a more effective, global, values led and holistic approach to changemaking.
Unfortunately, feminism is still often perceived as a negative element of the gender equality movement. An extract from “We should all be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, duly explains the importance of defining ourselves as feminists without apology.
Some people ask, “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
It is worth emphasising that, unfortunately, the patriarchal structure of society is still deeply rooted with vast consequences for girls and women. Dismantling patriarchal structures cannot be achieved without the recognition of this fact. Feminism is a method that allows consciousness-raising and helps us to confront the reality of women’s condition. Feminism demands we challenge the traditional notion of authority and, importantly, question the existing power structures. Youth Movements would benefit from adopting this intersectional, structural and power-sensitive lens. It will encourage them to be bolder in their critical thinking, in analysing and questioning power structures, and inevitably in initiating a process of accountability. Subsequently, Youth Movements will play an active role in challenging societal norms affecting women, a hallmark of good leadership.
Embracing feminism is a journey that shifts perspectives on human rights, and points us down a path towards liberation not just for women but for all oppressed individuals, with a recognition of the intersecting impacts of gender, sex, sexual orientation, race, class and age on people’s experience of development. In this way, the feminist approach creates more fertile ground for the effective achievement of the Development Goals.
In South Sudan, the youngest country in the world, young women are excluded in both Youth Movements and Women’s Movements. While Youth Movements are male dominated, Women’s Movements don’t give space to the younger generation to express their personal experiences and concerns. Despite this exclusion, young women of South Sudan have and are still playing an essential role especially in addressing violence towards women and girls, including harmful practices and child marriage, joining the effort of the government in to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030.
Crown the Woman South Sudan (CREW) is one of the young-women-led initiatives that aims at empowering girls and women to ensure they harness their potential and contribute to nation building economically, socially and politically. In three years of existence, despite the political and social difficulties, CREW counts more than 80 volunteers and has helped more than 1000 children so far, through action-oriented actions. Only a Feminist Youth Movement opens the door to a borderless values-led global Youth Movement in which global solidarity ensures that no one is left behind.
We cannot wait anymore to have an honest conversation in regard to the persecution of human rights activists, detained and tortured for speaking truth to power and for exercising their freedom of assembly and speech. The Decade of Action requires a bolder and stronger Youth Movement. It demands us to be aware of the current shrinking of civic space and the unequal suffering of migrants, refugees, women and others from growing populist right-wing extremism. The hope, realistic or not, is to bridge the Global North and the Global South.
This is not a call for Youth Movements to become feminists, as I believe everyone stands firmly for equality. This is a call for Youth Movements to act intentionally and politically as feminists to deliberately challenge systems of inequality and oppression that are still leaving millions of people behind, especially women and girls who are disproportionately burdened by patriarchy.
Sodfa Daaji is a Tunisian-Italian women’s rights activist, currently serving as co-chairperson of Afrika Youth Movement, as a member of the Youth Advisory Council of UNGEI, United Nations Girls Education Initiative, and in the Coordinative Collective of Africans Rising. She is passionate about International Human Rights Law and the role of International Law in dispute settlement.