Y & W

Can someone explain to me why International Women’s Day and International Youth Day are so close together? Working at an organization where the first two words in the name are ‘Young’ and ‘Women’ meant that it was a busy week!

Here is a video of what I got up to:

Now you have seen what I did, I want to write about youth and gender issues. It was hard for me to write this, not because of my procrastination (well maybe) but because these issues are complex and I have so much to say about them. In the end I decided to focus on my own observations in Zambia and why I think days like International Women’s Day and International Youth Day are important.

Youth in Zambia are considered to be people between the age of 18-35 but in reality teenagers are often lumped into this group. Currently the two biggest universities (University of Zambia & Copperbelt University) have been closed since February because of a dispute over government allowances given to students. While it was recently announced that they would be reopening in April, the government will not be supplying these allowance to students anymore. This situation forced educated youth into a limbo where they aren’t being educated and cannot look for employment because of the unknown of when the schools would reopen. Now that we know when they will reopen, there has been a financial burden created by not providing these allowances that may restrict some groups of youth from attending post secondary education.

I think this situation shows that youth are often overlooked and underestimated as a resource for improving communities. I have met youth who are eager to find out how to get involved in community organizations and who are actively seeking out accurate information, especially in relation to sexual health, to become better educated. At the International Youth Day march there were so many youth who are involved in civic groups, showing that youth are actively out there attempting to better their communities. International Youth Day is important to celebrate because among other things, it is an opportunity for youth to show how passionate they are about social change. In order for development to occur, primary actors need to invest in youth where they need to be listened to and engaged.

Gender inequality exists everywhere but I am currently in a place where I find the gender divide more visible. As a feminist this means I constantly see and experience situations that I find frustrating but it is also helping me understand the complexity of gender norms. I am also at a women’s organization so I get to see daily how gender roles limit a woman’s potential in life. The majority of clients that come to the Drop In Centre are women discussing marital issues or child support. Many of the cases stem from girls entering into young marriages and then having children at a young age. In the past child brides were a common cultural practice and although it is now against the law there is still a strong societal pressure and often family pressure for girls to get married and have children, which means dropping out of school. Without a proper education and limited personal resources many rely on their husbands for economic support. When the relationship breaks down, women are often put in vulnerable situations and a lot of times this includes supporting children as well.

This is just one example of how gender norms can limit the potential of a girl. Women around the world are restricted socially, economically, and politically because of societal expectations and norms. Therefore International Women’s Day is an important day to celebrate because we need to celebrate how much gender equality has progressed but also use it as an opportunity for societies to come together to examine which inequalities still exist and how they can overcome limitations.