Girls and Young Women Participation Enabling Environment Begins with Me!
- Parent Category: ROOT
Over the past seven months I’ve dedicated my career life here at National Endowment for Democracy (NED), to understand further what participation entails. My research has been centered around the participation of girls and young women in leadership and democracy opportunities. This was a build up from my dissertation for my master’s degree which focused on participation of girls and young women in leadership processes in the Midlands Province in Zimbabwe.
In my country when talking about the youths often it refers to the young man who tradition and culture have allowed access, to represent themselves in private and public lives. Private lives at home and public lives in their community and public forums. The World Bank in ‘The Adolescent Initiative’ report state that young women face discrimination, poverty, HIV and they are also treated like second class citizens. This statement agrees with the notion that poverty and HIV has the face of women. These issues are the core of human rights, development and democracy.
Recently there has been a talk of the participation of girls and young women in leadership processes. To women’s and children’s rights activists like myself young women participation means smart democracy. Smart in that the girls are tomorrow’s women, who are also mothers who raise the young women and men with values of democracy. The girls and the women are the fifty percent of beneficiaries of democracy, that alone makes it important that they participate. Participation simply means having the opportunity to represent self in different forums and processes, to be given a voice and autonomy, to be given opportunities and to be treated like equal human beings.
Negative cultural and religious beliefs and practices especially in developing countries are at the centre of gender roles and socialization for girls and boys, women and men. These have caused untold suffering for women and girls as control and power has been vested in boys and men such that girls and women do not have a say in most issues that concern them.
The question I wish to trigger reflection on the reader today is; what is it that we can do in our own individual capacity to translate participation into meaning girls and boys, women and men equally? We often find ourselves at the centre of analyising others, but as activists both women and men, we have left ourselves out in asking the very questions we ask others, not because we have mastered the concept and the practice, but because we naturally sometimes get into the gear of ‘programming’. In our organisations and programmes, how have we excluded women? In our organisations, how have we ensured true participation in decision making, genuine economic, social and other opportunities for young women? On our Boards of Directors as young peoples’ organisations, in our movement building for political processes, have we not fallen into the same trap as what we often complain against politicians that they use women as and when suit them and leave them when they’ve won elections?
This is a call to reflect for us human rights activists and democrats to say, inclusion, equality and participation of women and girls begins with us. It must reflect in our governance structures right at the top. Democracy must begin with us and democracy isn’t just about elections, but also about human rights, the rule of law and citizenry engagement among other things, and it takes the 50% of the country thus women, to be equal participants at every level. It begins with us!