The year 2010 also marks a vital date for the development of societies: there are only 5 years left before the scheduled date of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and it appears that many goals have made uneven progress, and others are in danger of noncompliance.
In this context, the Young Women’s Forum is an open space to voice young women’s needs, demands and proposals, and it is designed to discuss and exchange best practices for advancing their empowerment. Improving the situation of millions of young women and enabling them to be active agents and strategic partners for development implies that governments and civil society, as well as the international community, must prioritize young women’s empowerment in all spheres. Each of us can contribute to this in different arenas and thus trigger a large multiplier effect. While the challenges are many, today I propose that you focus on the following four critical areas of action:
1. Empowerment of young women through the use of the new information and communication technologies (ICTs)
In today’s global world, the use of social networks on the Internet, mobile phones and audio/video tools have sped the flow of information and images in real time. ICTs are powerful tools to strengthen the skills of young people, to build their leadership in all arenas, to develop their networking capacities and to strengthen their political agendas. Nevertheless, the challenge is to ensure that disadvantaged or marginalized young women, particularly in developing countries, acquire these skills and capacities, and have access to new technologies to empower themselves and contribute to their societies.
2. Young women and their contributions to peace building processes
Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security puts women’s experiences in conflicts on the international peace and security agenda, focusing attention on the impact of conflicts on women and girls and calling for the engagement of women and youth in conflict resolution and peace building processes.
However, ten years since its adoption, there is still a long way to go. Women and young women continue to experience high rates of rape in conflict, which in many cases continues after the conflict ends. While the crisis of women in conflict countries in Africa is well known, less well known is the fact that more and more conflicts are being waged on the resource-rich territories of indigenous peoples, whose militarization puts indigenous women at higher risk.
On the other hand, a UNIFEM study of 24 major peace processes since 1992 found that fewer than 8 percent of the negotiators and fewer than 3 percent of the signatories were women. Thus peace agreements tend to be not only gender-blind but youth-blind, perpetuating the double discrimination young women face day by day.
3. HIV and AIDS and young women
Young women are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS: it is estimated that on average some 3,720 young women are infected each day and young women represent about 60 percent of all young people living with HIV.
Ensuring that young women have the knowledge and power to negotiate sexual relationships, and building positive masculinity images among boys and young men are both crucial to reducing the spread of HIV among this age group, and vital to all efforts to end the pandemic.
4. Ending violence against women and girls
Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread violations of human rights and takes place in every context, both in rural and urban areas and the public and private space. Young women and those living in poverty are especially at risk. What adds to their vulnerability is the fact that young women are the least able to access protection from these crimes, justice when they occur, or treatment for their impact.
In this context, youth must play a leading role in promoting a culture of zero tolerance against gender-based violence. Young men and boys are strategic allies in this process, and women and men acting together can end violence against women.
Those countries and societies where the rights, needs and demands of their young women are not considered and addressed neglect a critical human resource to advance democracy and sustainable development. The Young Women’s Forum provides a pluralistic and open space to agree on actions to reverse this trend. Let’s seize this opportunity. The present and next generations deserve no less.