Aware Girls’ Chairperson chaired Common Wealth Youth Gender Equality Forum in Malta (13th-18th May, 2015)

The Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network (CYGEN), the first youth network in the Commonwealth dedicated to working towards gender equality was launched in Malta on 13th May, the Launch was chaired by Gulalai Ismail, Chairperson Aware Girls and John Loughton from UK. The participants gathered in Malta were some of the Commonwealth’s brightest and bravest young leaders: together in Malta tried to find solutions to problems that aren’t easy to solve.

The President of Malta, H.E Marie Louise Coleira Preca, opened the forum with strong words, saying:

“You came here to meet fellow young people, and to discuss matters which effect your own lives, and the lives of many others. I urge you to be bold and work towards change that is positive and inclusive.” Her words, and those of Gulalai Ismail, who stated that “Today silence is not our option: we cannot remain silent anymore”, set the scene for a Forum of powerful discussions, culminating in an interactive dialogue.

Opening of the CYGEN Forum-Malta

Over the course of the week these delegates have crafted a set of priority policy recommendations for the Commonwealth network.These recommendations have been consolidated into an outcome document focusing on five policy areas: Youth Transitions; Governance; Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics; Child Marriage and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. As the Commonwealth Gender Plan of Action expires in 2015 and the Sustainable Development Goals emerge, which will set the development agenda for the next 15 years, there has never been a more critical time to advocate for improved policies on gender and equality issues. The CYGEN forum launched, as part of its final statement, the ‘Gender Five’: the network’s priority policy recommendations, one from each of our five key themes:

1.            All young people of the Commonwealth must have access to gender-inclusive, quality education with relevant curricula which prioritises holistic learning methods that prepare young people for decent fair work, equitable employment opportunities and entrepreneurship, transitioning to productive and resilient lives.

2.            The right of all women, girls and young people from marginalised groups must be recognised in order to successfully influence decision making, to hold leaders to account, and enable them to be partners in peace and stability.

3.            Commonwealth institutions must include an understanding of the needs of people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identities, gender expression and sex characteristics, developed in consultation with civil society, in the technical advice they provide to States in areas related to economic security such as education, employment and housing.

4.            The Commonwealth Secretariat should commission a gender audit of all policies at the Commonwealth and national government levels for all member states, including for child marriage.

5.            Every country should respect the right of all young people to make safe and informed sexual and reproductive health decisions by allocating appropriate health budget to develop a nationwide mobile application or hotline to disseminate youth-friendly information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, health care and services.

Commenting on the lack of gender equality which these recommendations seek to address, John Loughton, co-chair of the forum said, “Inaction and silence is not an option.  Dear Governments, this is not good enough.  We want to hold the Commonwealth to account…but also be its ally for change.”

Closing the conference the President of Malta HE Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca urged the delegates at the forum to take the network forward. She described how everything from poverty to low education could not be solved without addressing gender inequality. As part of Her Excellency’s support for the forum, delegates were treated to a guided tour of her summer residence, the Verdala Palace.

With the conference drawn to a close the work of the network will be just beginning as delegates return to their countries with a sound statement on gender equality for them to advocate for. They will also be exploring how best to continue and expand the network as an effective tool to articulate the voice of young gender experts in the Commonwealth.

Gulalai Ismail and Kemi Ogunsanya talk about Women and Peaceuilding



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