Center for Environment & Population (CEP)

Monday, June 3, 2013

“Talk, Listen and Act”: Youth at the Women Deliver Conference

By Allison Schaefer, CEP Intern

Allison Schaefer is writing a youth blog series on the annual Women Deliver Conference held this year in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Here is the first in the series.

Engage. The link between youth and issue awareness, policy change, and progress is engagement. The importance of engaging the youth population on the issues of gender equality and health is a reoccurring theme in Women Deliver 2013.

Ibtisam Kassim Ebrahim of the World Assembly of Youth, Helena Nangombe of Advocates for Youth, and Humphrey Nabimanya of Reach a Hand all offer their own unique perspectives of the role of youth in global health and women’s issues. As a youth myself, I found myself reconsidering my role in the global community and realizing the potential I possessed to promote positive change.

Ibtisam Kassim Ebrahim, originally from Kenya but now living in Malaysia, provides an insightful dialogue on mechanisms to engage youth and issues to pinpoint. Representing WAY, an international body of youth organizations, Ibtisam seeks to find resolution to gender inequalities and social burdens for women. When asked by UN Development Programme moderator Boaz Paldi, Ibtisam reminds us that social media is the key to engaging youth on critical topics including quality education for women and girls. Progress in gender equality and education pave the way for equal opportunity and a good quality of life for women and girls. Nangombe and Nabimanya relate a similar message in their panel discussion as well. All mention the essential social media outlets: Facebook and Twitter.

The emphasis they place on spreading awareness via social media struck a cord with me. Growing up in a digital age, my high school experience has been shaped and influenced by social media. I’ve seen first hand the power of Facebook to spread important messages in a short timeframe. By “sharing”, “posting” and “tweeting”, youth are able to use repetition to reinforce the importance of an issue in our society. But Ibtisam goes beyond simple social media, reminding us that there are other outlets for communication. Through WAY, she publishes a monthly bulletin as well as a website. This website contains a directory of youth organizations and current policies to provide youth with direct access, awareness, and information.

Technological sources such as these provide youth with the invaluable link to information and promote education, another issue discussed in Women Deliver. Ibtisam calls youth the “catalyst of most policy making around the world.” With such a pivotal role in issue resolution and the future of women’s rights, the youth population must be engaged.

In an earlier dialogue, Helena Nangombe and Humphrey Nabimanya express a similar view on the importance of social media in communicating with the youth. Helena and Humphrey, however, focus specifically on how social media can be utilized to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS and maternal health to youth.

So how can you communicate with youth? When I heard this question I was very interested to hear the answer and see if I agreed; inevitably, I did. Humphrey explains that in order to communicate with youth on issues as critical as HIV, AIDS, and reproductive health, we must speak the language of youth. This can be accomplished, they argue, by utilizing social media, SMS text messages, TV stations and even local newspapers. Humphrey also suggests stressing positivity. Humphrey rationalizes that we need to excite the youth not scare them away from the issues, an idea I couldn’t agree more with. By using hope, positivity, and progress as themes of social media campaigns we can engage the youth and promote change. He even provides some more unique tactics to reach the youth. Running awareness campaigns through large corporate companies with a youth audience is just one of them. I was struck at the brilliancy of this idea. What better way to reach a large youth audience than to target products that they purchase and are devoted to?

Humphrey also introduces the idea of interconnected media awareness campaigns. As a TV host, he describes how he could post an important issue on Facebook, engage the youth in a dialogue in the “comment” box, then discuss the ideas brought up on his TV program. Multiple facets of information is critical to issue awareness in the youth. Communication is key, but how can we engage the youth to act? Helena reminds us that as youth “we are leaders not of tomorrow but of today.” Talk, listen, and act. These three words are her recipe for progress.

By reminding youth of the responsibility they hold in our global community, engaging them through social media, and prompting action, the future of the health of women and society as a whole is looking a whole lot brighter.

To see the full videos from the Women Deliver Conference see links attached

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