Do you remember the last time you felt confidence in yourself and your voice? This feeling swept over me when Oxfam Canada invited me in November 2016 to represent them on a three-day Youth Tour to visit Members of Parliament.
I joined ten other youth leaders from around the world in Ottawa to meet with Members of Parliament about how they can support youth to help end extreme inequality. As a young Canadian woman, my message emphasized the importance of engaging young women in civic and political life, while recognizing that they are not a homogenous group. After meeting with six Members of Parliament, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC), and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), I felt inspired by the energy, creativity and talents our group presented to these decision makers.
As a young Canadian high school student, I remember my apathetic experience with civics and careers classes and how it drew me away from engagement, rather than to it. Upon reflection, I realized I was disempowered by the lack of representation of youth and women leaders in our history, the news, and in my community. I did not learn about women or youth that used their voices to enact change, which made me question my capacity to make a difference. Inevitably, the idea of being a leader yourself can feel inaccessible when the systems that you are actively trying to engage with or protest against, are difficult to understand.
As a young woman currently volunteering in my community on Oxfam’s Shortchanged Campaign. I challenged MPs in our meetings to support youth, and in particular, consider gender inequalities in policy making and what impact that they can have on the poorest people in society. I highlighted the importance of early education and using accessible language for youth to understand and verify their significant role in society. I believe we need to invite more youth to events, share their voice, and create spaces for youth to connect and support each other. Most importantly, we must ensure that we consult youth, in particular those most marginalized within society and in the poorest parts of the world.
The young leaders on the Oxfam Tour reinforced similar notions of youth empowerment, specifically for young women and marginalized youth. We spoke to the need to champion a National Youth Policy in Canada—a policy that is youth centered when it comes to employment, reproductive rights and climate change. We identified the need for a shift in dialogue that puts youth engagement first and responds to the needs of marginalized youth by developing more youth initiatives like investing in youth entrepreneurship. While all of the MPs placed significance on different elements, I was elated to hear the response and discussions that blossomed from our ideas and visions.
Oxfam provided me with an opportunity to connect with amazing young leaders and activists from around the world. Their passion fueled the fire in me to continue this work, and so from my own experience, youth empowering youth does work after all.
I therefore, leave you with a challenge— join me and others from across Canada working to end gender inequality. Tell your Member of Parliament to make work paid, equal and valued for women: www.shortchanged.ca You are an agent of change, and your voice matters.
By Lydia Klemensowicz