We, young feminists in ALL our diversity, are here to hold our governments accountable to the commitments they have made to guarantee gender equality, eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against us, and achieve the full realisation of all of our human rights. As young feminists, most of us were too young to attend the Beijing Conference in 1995. We acknowledge much has been achieved over the past 20 years in the areas of education, employment opportunities for young women, and political participation of young women in national and regional platforms; however, many gaps remain.
On the occasion of the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and the 20-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action, we express our deep disappointment at the exclusion of the majority of Civil Society Organisations’ (CSOs), women’s rights and feminist organisations from the process of negotiating the political declaration. The CSW must continue to be a platform for CSOs, women’s and feminist organisations to actively, effectively, and meaningfully participate and hold our governments accountable.
Looking ahead to the post-2015 agenda, we firmly call for SDG 5 on gender equality, its targets and indicators to reflect the human rights of all women, young women, adolescents, girls and people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, in all their diversity. The CSW must play a role in shaping clear accountability mechanisms for the SDGs and it must provide a permanent and safe space for young women’s meaningful participation and engagement.
Young women and girls aged 15 – 35 make-up 860 million of the world’s population (UNFPA, 2011). Global figures show that around 250,000 children are child soldiers, of which 40% are girls. In Africa, an estimated 928 million girls aged 10 years and above have undergone female genital mutilation. There are over 60 million girls married before their 18th birthday, mainly in Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia. In 2011, the regions with the highest gender gaps were South Asia (34.1%), Middle East (33.6%) and North Africa (27.4%). Every minute, a young woman is newly infected with HIV; only one in five young women in developing countries knows the basic facts about HIV; and according to the World Health Organization, AIDS is the second cause of death in adolescents. 21.6 million women undergo unsafe abortions worldwide each year, 18.5 million of which occur in developing countries, and 47,000 women die from complications of unsafe abortion each year.
We face violations of our sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and barriers to accessing SRH information, education, and services which are youth-friendly and non-judgmental. This includes access to rights-based comprehensive sexuality education; safe, legal and affordable abortion services, and services to prevent, treat, and respond to HIV and STIs.
The existence of social, cultural, structural, and religious barriers are prevalent throughout the world, preventing all women, girls, and people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities from achieving their full potential. Young women are too often left out of political and economic spaces, and discriminatory laws and legislations prevail, denying access to equal wage opportunities, decision-making processes, and positions of power. If we are to achieve a world of equality, peace and justice, governments must be accountable to the world’s 860 million young women.
As we review the Beijing Platform for Action and define our paths forward, we demand the following actions to be prioritized at future CSWs and in Post-2015 processes:
- Meaningful and effective participation of young women in political spaces, decision-making platforms and accountability mechanisms, including in formulating, developing, implementing and evaluating laws, policies, plans and budgets; the establishment of an enabling environment for building leadership of young women in local government as well as in provincial and national government, including by allocating specific quotas for women; End all forms of harassment, including direct and indirect political harassment, to realize young women’s true participation in the political sphere.
- Equal access to land, property, environmentally safe technology and capital for young women and girls.
- Access to universal health care, including mental health care, the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, confidential HIV and STI testing, and access to comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, care, support and medication free from coerced and forced sterilization of women living with HIV.
- Young women’s economic empowerment through laws and policies that protect our rights to equal employment and wage opportunities, acknowledging the informal and often marginalized sectors, including household, migrant domestic workers, and those working in the entertainment and artistic sector, and our vulnerabilities to rights violations.
- Access to relevant and quality education matching labour markets and development needs, including more investments in science, mathematics, technology and engineering subjects for young women.
- The provision of comprehensive, accessible, affordable, non-discriminatory, non-judgmental, confidential, gender-sensitive and youth-friendly information, education and services on SRHR, irrespective of gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, including but not limited to the full range of contraception options, maternal health services, safe abortion services, as well as treatment, care and support for sexually transmitted infections and HIV and AIDS for ALL young women and girls.
- Prioritize the adoption and successful implementation of evidence-based, universally accessible, quality, non-judgmental comprehensive sexuality education, which is linked to comprehensive youth-friendly services, which emphasizes human sexuality, gender equality, human rights, relationships, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, provided in a safe and participatory environment, and which caters to formal, informal, and non-formal education systems.
- The full realization of sexual and reproductive rights, including through the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies, such as parental and spousal consent laws, laws that criminalize individuals on the basis of the sexuality or HIV status, etc.
- The protection and meaningful participation of young women and the girl child, including those from marginalized and/or minority groups, the diversity of which encompasses lesbian, bisexual, transgender people, young women with different abilities, indigenous young women, young women living with HIV and AIDS, young women sex workers, young women using drugs, young migrant workers, among others, in all processes and mechanisms, from local to national to global.
- Formulate and effectively implement laws and policies to end discriminatory traditional and harmful practices such as early and forced marriages by enforcing laws to criminalize it without full and informed consent. Ensure all measures are taken to end female genital mutilation and the trafficking and forced labor of girls.
- Expand the definition of violence against women to include the specific vulnerabilities faced by young women and the girl child, with an emphasis on legal protection, to account for the emerging and multifaceted forms of violence, including early and forced marriage, online and cyberspace violence, dating violence, marital rape, violence in educational institutions, harmful traditional practices, violence as a product of religious fundamentalism, coerced and forced sterilization for women living with HIV, as well as in conflict and post-conflict situations. Ensure the meaningful participation and engagement with the diversity of young people at all levels, in addressing the issues of violence.
- Young women’s leadership in conflict situations, climate change and natural disasters to address young women and girls’ needs and problems, especially violation of their SRHR in such crisis situations. Additionally national climate change responses must adequately and effectively mainstream the differentiated needs of women and girls impacted by disaster and climate change.
In the context of the Post 2015 Development Agenda, the SDGs and the Third Conference on Financing for Development , it is necessary to incorporate all needs and demands of young women and girls, in all our diversity, emphasizing our SRHR. Governments should make sure that cultural and religious arguments are not used as an excuse to deny and/or violate human rights. In order to achieve the above, governments must ensure inclusion of gender equitable and youth-specific indicators in the post-2015 agenda, with a clear funding and resourcing framework and disaggregated indicators for monitoring progress. It is also important to provide support for young women’s organisations and programmes and create spaces for participation of young girls in designing, implementing and evaluation of programmes and services, strengthening existing national policies and programmes to be gender responsive. We encourage governments to include in the delegations at least 2 young women in order to give continuity and support to the CSW processes. It is necessary to recognize the specific risks, discrimination and violence young women face in their work as activists. We urge governments to introduce policies to protect young feminist activists and human rights defenders, and to bring perpetrators of violence and discrimination to justice.