Empowering Young Women: A Key to Sustainable Development

Oct 11, 2016

By Randi Davis, Director of the Gender Team of the United Nations Development Programme, for the Girls' Rights Gazette/European Girls' Rights Week

Two young women in Kosovo, frustrated by the low percentage of women in the technology sector, launched Girls Coding Kosovo, a non-governmental organization that empowers and trains women and girls in programming, engineering and computer science. A year later, the group has more than 500 participants and several products, including Walk Freely, an app aimed at fighting sexual harassment.

Along Egypt’s Nile River, a group of school girls travel from village to village to perform a song they wrote that is helping to change local attitudes and end female genital mutilation. They sing: ‘I am born perfect with my body whole. Why do you want to cut us, and take away the rights that God gave us?'

Students at Albania’s Tirana University hired actors to enact a domestic violence incident and then projected a video of the scene around the city to test the reactions of the public.  The video went viral in social and traditional media, taking the messages of the students’ public awareness campaign against gender-based violence to a wide audience.

These initiatives, supported by the United Nations Development Programme, show how young women and girls throughout the world are demonstrating that they are willing and able to fight inequality and advocate for change.  On every continent and in every country, young women are making it clear that they want their voices to be heard and counted.

The stakes could not be higher. Today, we have the largest generation of young people the world has ever known. One third of them live in countries that have suffered a violent conflict, and 75 million are unemployed.

Young women, in particular, face a serious array of development challenges – from gender-based violence, to discrimination in education and health, to widespread and persistent gender norms and attitudes that prevent them from participating in public life and fulfilling their potential as productive adults.

How young women are supported to engage in the world will not only shape their individual lives, but will determine the prospects of sustainable development and peace in the coming years.

To drive increased investments targeted at young women, UNDP’s new Youth Global Programme for Sustainable Development and Peace devotes one of four components to young women’s empowerment. Through this programme, which responds to the concerns young people have expressed in global, regional and national fora, UNDP will accelerate efforts to promote young women’s participation and leadership in public life, empower young women economically, and support the inclusion of young women’s voices, needs and contributions in the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

Keeping gender equality and women’s empowerment –  including for young women - at the centre of our development efforts will be key to the success of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. From the coders of Kosovo to the schoolgirls of rural Egypt, young women are powerful agents of change – and empowering them benefits us all.

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