The Generation Equality Forum, held in 2021, has begun a five-year journey to accelerate ambitious action and implementation on global gender equality, with a strategy that emphasises the participation and contributions of youth. The Forum generated $40 billion in financial commitments, as well as multiple policy and program commitments through multi-stakeholder Action Coalitions.
Women leaders of all ages have made essential contributions to the overall development of our world, and specifically to furthering gender equality. The importance of young women’s transformational leadership in particular, which is the focus of this toolkit, is evident at the national and international levels: they have been critical to reigniting interest in different areas of advocacy such as climate change, Indigenous rights, and mental health (among other themes) through a gender-responsive and intersectional lens, and offer unique perspectives and working methods that are integral to the continued growth and success of existing movements.
These structural barriers that limit the exercise of youth and young women’s political rights ultimately hinder democracy by inhibiting the diversity in decision-making that is needed to achieve true representation. Young women themselves are negatively impacted both as a constituency affected by the decisions made and as vital current and future change agents. Civil society organisations and governments have increasingly recognised the importance of young women’s political leadership and have identified this as a priority in democratic and gender equality commitments and programming.
Crucially, promoting substantive youth political involvement demands that those mechanisms, spaces, programs, and youth mainstreaming strategies support youth in developing their capacities as transformational leaders and advance the removal of barriers to exercising transformational leadership. According to the Young Feminist Manifesto, developed by young people who took part in the 2021 Generation Equality Forum (GEF), transformative leadership is leadership for sustainable change and addresses the root causes of inequalities. It is deeply intertwined with feminist leadership and intersectionality, and these combined, aim to challenge and shift power to dismantle systems of inequality and oppression holistically.
When designed in these ways, parliamentary youth programs and the connections they establish, based on mutual respect and knowledge sharing, can greatly contribute to the fulfillment of shared goals, expand the topics debated in the legislature, foster more inclusive policy-making processes, and promote parliamentary openness and democratic strengthening. In addition, civic education efforts that allow youth to learn about parliaments and see the opportunity for positive change that can be achieved in these spaces support them in becoming and remaining politically active and engaged members of society.
One of the most impactful participation strategies is to incorporate youth inputs directly into the policy-making process. Through the ILJ Panama project, participants co-created a citizen’s initiative to promote and regulate ecotourism in the country through a gender-responsive and intersectional lens and submitted this to the National Assembly. The citizen’s initiative was deemed viable and is now eligible to be discussed at the committee level in the National Assembly.
In recent years, the growing activism and social and political movements led by the hemisphere’s youth have been essential in denouncing inequalities exacerbated by sexism, racism, and other forms of systemic discrimination, as well as in putting relevant issues on the public agenda. Young experts have drawn attention to a wide variety of topics through various ParlAmericas, CIWiL, and FONAMUPP activities in recent years. Five priority areas that youth leaders have emphasised are outlined below:
Youth advocate on a wide range of health topics, from increasing mental health supports during COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, to addressing period poverty to ensure all individuals have access to needed menstrual products, to expanding access to reproductive and sexual healthcare and rights. Young people are also part of calls to promote co-responsibility in care work, calling for state actors to recognise unpaid care work and invest in solutions that distribute responsibilities more equitably, breaking down traditional gender norms around care tasks.
In different spaces, including in the YWiL parliamentary sittings and the 13th PNGE Gathering on gender-responsive and data-driven social protection systems, young leaders have brought up these critical issues, noting how the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the fragility of social protection systems and persistent problems like domestic and political violence.
Leadership programs like Young Women in Leadership and Youth Legislative Impact aim to provide tools for leaders of all ages to establish intergenerational partnerships, recognising that a multitude of actors are needed to foster and sustain youth political leadership. This section provides good practices for young leaders and their intergenerational allies to enable sustainable youth leadership for gender equality.
For young leaders
The additional barriers that youth face in exercising their political rights, in addition to the challenges of advancing gender equality in potentially adverse environments, can lead to overwork, stress, and even burnout. Backlash, trolling, and harassment are often used to silence those challenging unequal power structures and create distressing realities faced by many women leaders. Additionally, young leaders often do their gender equality advocacy in a volunteer capacity, or on top of full-time work or education.
Therefore, it is important for young leaders to pay attention to their own mental health, especially in the midst of multiple priorities that may appear to be more pressing. Self-care and establishing healthy boundaries can become important strategies for building resilience and maintaining efforts in the face of the additional pressures and barriers that young leaders may face. Truly grounding one’s leadership in a feminist approach requires a commitment to fostering holistic wellbeing for individuals, teams, and communities.
Here are some resources to support young leaders in prioritising their mental health:
Relying on strong networks of fellow gender equality advocates has also proven to be a good practice for overall wellbeing and effective leadership. These networks are an important source of resources, opportunities, and most importantly, mutual support among leaders of all ages.
For youth allies
Experienced parliamentarians and civil society leaders can be crucial allies for young political leaders, using their positions of influence, networks, and expertise to open doors and create safe spaces for the new generations. Some strategies that they can implement include:
“Experiences with parliaments are so important. When ParlAmericas and CIWiL organised YWiLTT, I sat there (in Trinidad and Tobago’s Parliament, during the historic all-women parliamentary sitting) and thought to myself: ‘I can actually be here one day.’ It was very empowering. I think those experiences need to happen often.”
Gender equality activist and YWiLTT 2020 participant
“Part of the challenges associated with our societies is the multiplicity of ideas, perspectives, life experiences, and ideologies, which are also present among members of different generations. Thus, it is necessary to build greater intergenerational cooperation to achieve common gender equality goals.”
Young leader and member of FONAMUPP
“I am the first youth parliamentarian who has achieved the opportunity to be in the National Assembly in my own seat. And that means that everything you are discussing today must materialize into something real, palpable, into something that you can transcend into the future and transform it into initiatives that have a real impact on the citizens of this country, and even the world... We have to have many sessions like [Youth Legislative Impact], that allow people to prepare for the challenge that it means to lead a State from the National Assembly.”
Honourable Member of the National Assembly (Panamá)
“A youth-friendly parliament would involve having young people around. Mentorship, giving them opportunities. Making it clear that ‘this is your house,’ not a mystical place, but one where we work for the people. It would involve having parliamentarians giving spaces to young volunteers in their constituencies to incorporate their inputs.”
Former parliamentarian (Canada)
The good practices that follow have been shared by parliamentarians and other stakeholders. They describe techniques for engaging men in gender equality initiatives.