Mobilizing 1.8 Billion: Lessons from the Youth Assembly

by Katherine J. Wynne

Photo credit: Katherine J. Wynne

Within the last thirty years--approximately one generation--the world has seen the birth of the internet, laptop computers, mobile phones, email, ecommerce, micro-financing, social networking, bio fuels, solar energy and human genome sequencing. Within one generation, the fabric that binds humanity from one continent to the next has been entirely digitized or otherwise fundamentally transformed. We have seen first-hand that the globe is capable of adapting to dramatically new norms, methods of conducting business, and ways of interconnecting in a remarkably short period of time. If the world is capable of such dramatic change in one generation, why then do world leaders project it will take nearly six generations before women achieve equality?

"You can't distribute equality the way you distribute food aid," Mr. Ravi Karkara, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, noted poignantly at the 2016 Winter Youth Assembly at the United Nations last month in New York City. Of the seventeen new Sustainable Development Goals, equality for women is Goal #5. It is categorically separate, yet serves as the pre-conditional bedrock to the success of every other UN goal. Therefore, the very success of the 2030 Goals rests upon women's ability to achieve equality within our next generation.

Photo credit: Katherine J. Wynne

The greatest challenge facing women's equality will be the upheaval of deep-rooted perceptions of the role of women in society. The revolution must be a cultural one before it will truly have a long-term impact on social, political, and economic spheres. Equality for women comes down to the fundamental nature of humanity, not apathy towards cultural differences. To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, we will require no less than the full mobilization of all 1.8 billion of the world's youth.

Overhauling the role of women in society must begin at the most basic levels. "At this [Youth Assembly] we are speaking to those men who know not to hit, who know to instead empower women. We need to reach those men who don't," heralded Mohammed Naeem, founder of gender equality non-profit ManUp, at the Youth Assembly. The diplomats, civic leaders, corporate executives and youth delegates of the Youth Assembly unanimously echoed his call-to-arms. Over the course of two days, it became clear that 'global development for 2030' is truly a tour de force for women's rights. This cross-cultural movement will be championed, defended, and sustained by today's youth.

Photo credit: Katherine J. Wynne

Youth advocacy will be the gateway for women achieving equality in all spheres of society, economy, and policy. Youth entering the workforce must bridge the gaps between industries and across sectors by adopting a common set of ethical standards for women's equality. This collective upheaval of the cultural, economic, and educational roadblocks to equality will in turn have a substantial impact on all sixteen other 2030 development goals.

Researchers estimate that there is the potential for nearly 1 billion women to enter the workforce in the coming decade. The impact these women will have on education, hunger, poverty, clean water, economic growth, peace, and justice can only now be glimpsed. The technological advances of the last 30 years have equipped today's youth with the tools necessary to take immediate action to finally close the gender gap. As a youth delegate at the 2016 Winter Youth Assembly at the United Nations, I feel incredibly proud and humbled to be part of this movement.

Katherine J. Wynne is a leading young professional in the financial sector. She has previously been attached to the Canadian Embassy, the US House of Representatives, and Refugees International.

This post is a part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Friendship Ambassadors Foundation following the 2016 Youth Assembly at the United Nations held on February 17-18, 2016. The winter session tackled the role of youth in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To see all posts in the series, click here.