Putting the You back in YOUTH

Two weeks ago, 5 Young Leaders from the Youth Leaders for Nutrition Programme and I attended the Women Deliver conference.

So, what is Women Deliver?

Women Deliver advocates for gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women.  Its conference at the beginning of June focused on gender equality, particularly

  • women and girl’s wellbeing
  • health – including sexual and reproductive health
  • women’s and girls’ rights.

The four-day event saw a colossal turnout  of 8,000 people – including young people, journalists, global organisations and civil society organisations.

Did women deliver?

Young female leaders  certainly delivered in their speeches, dances and performances – and receiving standing ovations. During the plenary session, for example, youth leader Natasha, boldly told heads of state that there needs to be “action now”.

Five people really stood out for me (OK – I’m slightly biased!). Florence from Rwanda, Jade from the Philippines, Jane from Kenya, Ana from Canada and Barsha from Nepal designed, delivered and spoke at an entirely youth-led side event. They presented – and delivered – as experts on nutrition, while highlighting its linkages with the other 16 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The event also provided a platform for the launch of the Youth Advocacy Toolkit for Nutrition (created by the wider YL4N). And it was launched with a bang! Unlike more traditional side events and panel discussions, this event created concrete actions and invited the audience to commit to them – such as making a pledge on the ‘promise wall’ to use the toolkit as a guides in their own work and with their communities. And even more unconventional, the event began with songs, continued with a performance and closed with  a speech to set your pulse racing. Proof that shaking things up can have a powerful impact!

Following on from this young, fun and innovative side event, all five youth leaders were invited to speak on other panels hosted by Save the Children, Nutrition International, the Global Alliance for the Investment in Nutrition (GAIN), RESULTS and the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement. It certainly wasn’t a quiet week in Vancouver!

The youth advocates highlighted the linkages between malnutrition, child marriage and early pregnancy. And they set out how malnutrition is a gendered issue: in many countries and communities, girls and women often eat last and least.

The amazing thing about Women Deliver conference for me was that young people really were taken seriously. Rather than sitting quietly on the sidelines, young people were front and centre, right there on the podium. Their presence wasn’t tokenistic; instead they shared the stage with heads of state.

I think other global conferences can learn a lot from Women Deliver’s approach. As a matter of course, ‘Generation Youth’ should be incorporated into conversations from the get-go, not as an afterthought. In the world of nutrition, next year is critical: ‘Tokyo 2020’ marks the launch of potential new commitments made by governments, donors and philanthropists to the World Health Assembly targets to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Now more than ever, it’s time to think how we target these different audiences, while ensuring that different communities’ voices – particularly young people’s voices – are heard.

Let’s keep the momentum going and give young people opportunities to have their rightful say in decision making. Because young people are not just future leaders; across the globe they’re leading right now. It’s time for the rest of us to take notice .


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