Because of COVID-19, the whole world is facing challenges on a larger scale than could ever have been imagined just a few months ago. As young and diverse women, we face specific challenges. Some are experiencing violence in their homes – including child, early and forced marriages and unions (CEFMU) – others are struggling to buy food or don’t have access to basic healthcare services. And there are many more cases like these.
The effects of COVID-19 have touched us all. Some organisations and States have tried to mitigate these impacts through more generalised approaches: self-managed projects like 32 volcanes, Comedores Sociales de Puerto Rico (Food Kitchens of Puerto Rico) and the Red de Solidaridad Inmediata (Immediate Solidarity Network) are doing great work attending to a broader public. However, a good, specific response for young women is one that includes their voices. I believe this because I am also a young woman.
You might ask why this is important. Well, because we young women can contribute relevant solutions to the structural causes of inequality being intensified by the pandemic. In part because we young women experience this inequality first-hand. We are talented and deserve to participate in the proposals designed to impact on our lives.
But then comes the question “how?” Here are some recommendations:
- It’s important to include young women in work teams, and not only in specific positions “for young women,” but also in technical and decision-making roles. My experience is that there are spaces for young women to work on the issue of gender equality, but usually only through minor positions with limited scope. I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from Mayan women leaders in Guatemala and to discuss sexual rights with activists, and it’s clear to me that an organisation that listens to young women and allows itself to be influenced by their perspectives has a greater chance of developing responses that are relevant to its participants.
- We young women are part of the change, but aren’t the only ones responsible for it. Many of us have heard people call us “agents of change” or the “generation of progress.” I’m not saying we aren’t, but the reality is that the context we were born into is weighed down by years of inequality. Changing this in a single generation without support might be difficult! An ecological outlook that considers different actors within the social environment can help to distribute the work and burden of responsibility for transforming the issues that affect us more fairly.
- Even when work roles can’t include the full diversity of young women, the latter can be spoken with and consulted. A solution may be to put in place formal consultation mechanisms or research protocols that recognise our dignity. But, when we do go with this option, the objectives of the consultation need to be transparent and the information or resources need to be shared with participants at the end of the process.
- We young women aren’t all the same and nor do we live in the same conditions. Considering our diversity, listening to some of our specific requests – especially in the context of COVID-19 – can help identify the differential needs or focal points we can work on together.
- It is also valid to approach young women’s organisations for advice or to collaborate. We are already working in many fields and topics of general interest within the context of the pandemic, including sexual rights, food security and territorial sovereignty, and the prevention of violence. If you are a young woman, reach out! We’re already organised! Here are some of the organisations we lead that have already thought about ways to respond to the pandemic: Las Niñas Lideran (Girls Lead) and Ammudis in Guatemala, Colectiva Amorales and COMCAVIS TRANS in El Salvador, Balance and Kinal Antzetik Guerrero in Mexico, Joven PRIDE (Young PRIDE) in Venezuela, Rede de Juventude Indígena (Indigenous Youth Network) in Brazil, Tú Decides (You Decide) in Bolivia, Ñañaykuna in Perú, META Latinoamérica, Red Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Jóvenes por los Derechos Sexuales (Latin American and Caribbean Youth Network for Sexual Rights) and Colectiva Resistencias Feministas (Feminist Resistances Collective) in Argentina.
In the time it has taken to read this article 42 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds