Young Asian poets call for gender equality

March 21, 2022

“Where there is heroism, there are brave women too,

As everyone is an equal creation of nature, 

Let's get together to spread the brightness of light forever, 

With shoulders together, unity in diversity.”

Kabita Raut’s poem, titled ‘Gender equality for Sustainable Development Goals’, was one of the dozens of poems recited at an event marking International Women’s Day on March 8 2022. Raut, who came in second place at the Nepal National Poetry Competition, emphasized how women can help preserve and protect nature while also ensuring gender equality in her poem. She was joined at the event by first place winner Jyotirani Kumari Paswan, third place winner Manoj Aryal, along with poets from three other Asian countries – India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. 

“You will say that there is no truth in this.

 Well leave it, we are no less than sons.”

Barkha Kumari, a poet from India, recited these lines from her poem ‘We are no less than sons’, stressing the importance of gender equality and how women are essential to building a nation. Barkha’s poem was selected from among 151 submissions received for this recitation event. Young poets Manshi Suhag and Priyanka Gupta also represented India and recited their poems during the event.

These young poets came together to offer a new perspective on the nexus between climate change and gender equality. The poets – irrespective of their nationalities – emphasized messages of equality and the power of nature, cutting across geography, culture, and languages.

“She knows that silence doesn't answer anything​

An answer is like a key that opens and closes possibilities​

​I've heard Earth's weak heartbeat, is it going to die?​

How do we write the name on the tombstone?​

What is the gender, Father?”​

Reciting these lines from his poem, ‘A pair of questions my daughter may ask’, Indonesian poet Faisal Oddang too illustrated how important gender equality can be for the preservation of nature.

From Sri Lanka, Dr. Roshini Pieris read from her poem ‘Just let them be’, reciting: 

“Their knees strain from bowing to life, 

Their feet stained with colour of their land 

Yet they hold on, they get back up, 

Because that’s who they are.  

But should they?  

Why can’t they just be?  

Let them be free 

Let them be proud of who they are  

Let them break the chains  

Just let them be.”  

The poet highlighted the continued plight of women and emphasized how they can break their existing chains to gain true freedom. Along with Dr. Roshini, Dr. Oshadhi Karunasekara, K. G. Geetha Roshini De Silva and Karthiha Suvendranathan also recited their poems during the event.

UNDP Nepal, in collaboration with UNDP in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, had hosted the  ‘Multi-country Poem Recitation’ programme commemorating IWD 2022 on 14 March, under the theme of ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’. The event was organized in a hybrid format at Godawari in Lalitpur with the virtual participation of other countries.

“We should make use of everyone’s capacities to come up with the best solutions for climate change. We need women, men, boys and girls to commit to gender equality and raise their voices on climate issues,” said Koh Miyaoi, gender advisor to the UNDP Regional Bureau for the Asia Pacific.

“Gender discrimination obstructs the achieving of Sustainable Development Goals, so we need to tackle the inequalities. Everyone is contributing to gender equality in some way which can be a beginning and an opportunity for change. Poetry can be heard by many and can change the world,” said Nadia Rasheed, deputy resident representative of UNDP India.

“In celebration of International Women’s Day, we focus on what it takes to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in a time when our world is struggling to mitigate the impacts of climate change and prevent further exacerbation of environmental and disaster risk challenges,” said Nika Saeedi, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative a.i. Indonesia.

Similarly, UNDP Nepal’s Resident Representative Ayshanie Medagangoda Labe added, “Young people are the future. They have the power to influence. We hope that this poetry recitation with the engagement of youth can help create awareness on gender equality and advocate for tackling the climate crisis.” 

“Women are both caretakers and users of nature while young people are the ones who protect the environment and prevent disasters,” said Sriyani Perera, gender specialist at UNDP Sri Lanka.

Over 80 students, poets, gender activists and climate practitioners joined the programme to exchange country-level experiences and challenges relating to gender and climate issues.

The recitation programme concluded with a strong common message: we need to act now for gender equality and come together to battle the climate crisis.