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Disruption catalyses progress – and young feminists remain the biggest disruptors at #UNGA78  

Disruption catalyses progress – and young feminists remain the biggest disruptors at #UNGA78  

By Shakira Choonara
on September 21, 2023

Time flies when you’re having fun, it’s already over 1.5 years since I started providing support to the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. Through this role at UN Women, I work closely with governments, the private sector, civil society and youth-led organizations, it’s really seeing and revelling first hand at the “multi-stakeholder” model we keep talking about in global health. The incredible learnings, great moments and experiences are for another blog or another panel (hint, you are welcome to already invite me to HSR 2024, Nagasaki, I promise I have some good stories to share over sushi)  😊

Okay, back to reality and this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 78).  I am certainly not in any position to determine who the most powerful disruptors at this UNGA78 are but I do have a strong opinion on the matter.

Indeed, hands down, the young feminists who spoke at the Generation Equality Midpoint Moment Youth Spotlight during the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Summit earlier this week, showed us the power of youth leadership coupled with a strong sense of responsibility and accountability (you can watch more here, starting from 2 hrs 33 ).

I have been in tonnes of global health spaces, and unfortunately, I often watch youth not really pushing the boundaries, and instead pretty much regurgitate the usual development ‘blah blah blah’ (as Great Thunberg mentioned in her epic 2021 speech). Like Greta, I just tend to fall sound asleep then. Occasionally, however, like a shooting star, we do spot a speaker who really shakes up the conferences and discussions. But in this case, we were fortunate to have an *entire youth-led feminist panel* do so. They were totally rocking.

Below I have put together snippets of each of the interventions offered by these powerful young speakers who reflected on Generation Equality, the structures, their roles, their vision, their struggles, their own accountability and their recommendations. These young feminists came prepared with an entire PowerPoint presentation on how they plan to set up a Watchdog for accountability, funding and sustainability of the youth agenda.

“Sitting next to an indigenous speaker and our moderator, I would say things are already changing” – Alejandra Nohora Quiguantar, AC Youth Leader, Tejiendo Pensamiento

“Young people have disrupted every single structure in Generation Equality, I do not underestimate how much trouble we were to those in the room today” – Zahra Al Hilaly, former Generation Equality Youth Task Force Member

“At the midpoint moment for Generation Equality, I ask you, where are the resources, where is the accountability, where is the decision-making, who is sharing the power? The Young Feminist Manifesto speaks to intersectionality, we need to deepen these principles! How can we take what we are doing back to our regions, our countries, our home” – Jeevika Shiv, Cocreator Feminist Manch; Advisor the YP Foundation; National Gender Youth Activist NGYA to UN Women

“The fact that adolescents are in this room shows that disruption catalyses progress. There was a point where adolescents and youth were fighting for the same speaking spots, but we are fighting towards the same goal. We no longer exist in the same breath as we did two years ago, we need compensation and we need to be heard” – Ishanvi Malayanil, Adolescent Girl Advisory Group

“Being an Action Coalition Leader has been transformative and challenging at the same time. There is a contest of power, coming into this space as a young person you have to retain your power and then reclaim the power. We have had to look for resources, sharing hotel rooms, it has meant activism outside of our working hours, and holding ourselves accountable. When there’s closed door meetings, we call for accountability. We are dismantling colonialism by including those who are excluded, we are dismantling patriarchy including those who have been harmed in our spaces. This is what youth power is” – Esther Mwema, Founder of Digital Grassroots

“Generation Equality has helped us to connect and centre movement building, after all of the exclusion, we have allowed us to revive the Young Feminist Caucus in high-level spaces such as the Commission Status of Women (CSW) and the Conference of Parties (COP). Generation Equality has allowed us to connect and be aligned” – Eunice Leyva Garcia, Executive Director, Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights

“Funding is still not going to where it is needed most, it is not going to youth-led feminist organizations” – Ms Xenia Kellner, Young Feminist Europe

“When we first came to the UN, we entered spaces which did not feel at home, these spaces are not made for us. Together with my peers, I learnt it’s okay to go knocking on the doors of diplomacy because we cannot wait a day longer” –  Ayshka Najib, Fridays for Future MAPA

All I can say is these young feminist leaders showed us total flames at UNGA78. These perspectives are food-for-thought for all of the spaces around us. Things are definitely changing and for the better, because a mere seven years ago when I attended the adoption of the SDGs at UNGA, we held a flag and lanterns only, that was the extent of our engagement. Watch more for a rant in my young days  as proof that the wheel is definitely turning and for the better.

*This blog is penned in a personal capacity and is not representative of any organization or entity

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