Engaging Youth: A Gender Equality Game Changer

by Patricia Moscibrodzki

The world is changing fast, through digital innovation and globalization. But it needs to change faster to empower women, whose work has already driven many of the global gains in recent decades. We have made seismic shifts over the past few decades - women all over the world have pushed the boundaries on educational attainment, economic participation and even political representation. And yet this great progress has not been enough to close the gender gap.

As we move into a new era of international development, framed by progress on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), links between health, gender equality and education are clearly recognized. The targets of the stand-alone gender goal, SDG 5, are core to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment – a condition for achieving all the SDGs, including SDG 3, good health and well-being, and the SDG4, quality education for all.

Globally, only 55 percent of women have the opportunity to participate in the labor force, compared with 80 percent for men; this is a sober reminder that progress and successes are not always synonymous. According to recent trends, it won’t be until 2120 before all rural African girls will be able to receive primary education completion. By contrast, in richer countries, poverty amplifies the gender difference in upper secondary education, whereby completion rates for adolescents, particularly boys, are a growing concern in many Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

Gender inequality affects us all, so achieving gender equality must involve us all. As Emma Watson, the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for the HeForShe campaign so poignantly articulated, “It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals.” When women have the same opportunities as men, families and societies thrive. Gender equity unleashes women’s potential but it also unleashes men’s potential – as it frees them to work as partners with women.

To limit gender inequality over time, reaching adolescents and young adults is key. Decisions during this stage of life determine skills, health, economic opportunities and aspirations in adulthood. To ensure that gender gaps do not persist over time, policies must emphasize building human and social capital, easing transition from school to work, and shifting aspirations. Everyone benefits when women have access to the services and products they need to plan and space their pregnancies, as well as access to basic education: women are healthier and give birth to healthier babies; families are better off and their children are more likely to receive quality health care and schooling. In turn, healthier, more educated children mean healthier and more prosperous communities.

Last month, when nearly 700 ambitious young people from 85 countries convened at the 2017 Winter Youth Assembly at the United Nations, it became imminently clear that these challenges, although grand, are passionately supported. As Her Excellency Ms. Simona-Mirela Miculescu noted:

“Young people played a key role in forging Agenda 2030, so involving young women and men as partners in its implementation is not only a right but also a responsibility. It is a prerequisite for the success of the Agenda”.

Today’s record 1.8 billion young people present an enormous opportunity to transform the future. Young people are the innovators, creators, builders and leaders of the future. Engaging with adolescents and addressing their needs is crucial for addressing gender equality and the rest of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Tapping into the huge potential of youth can be a game changer or I would go even further to say a no-brainer.

About the author: Patricia Moscibrodzki is a second year student at Icahn School of Medicine’s Graduate School of Public Health where she will receive her MPH in Global Health with a focus in Epidemiology; she has worked at the Clinton Foundation and UNICEF.

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