We the young women from more than 20 countries convened in the Young Women’s Forum on 21 January 2013 the margins of the 20th African Union Summit under the theme: “Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance”, committed to defining the future we want.
We are women, we are citizens and we are young. We come in our diversity as young women who are single, married, widowed, we are mothers and sisters. We are working women, we are entrepreneurs, innovators, unemployed, we are living in the streets and we are in international business. We come with our diversity of sexual identity, we are women in sex work, we are women living positively with HIV; and disabilities, we are migrants, we are refugees and we are from the diaspora. We are Africa. We draw on the aspirations of our ancestors, the richness of our cultures and the roundedness in the spirit of Ubuntu.
As young women we celebrate:
· We celebrate, the African Union for the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality and the Africa Protocol on Women’s Rights in Africa; as well as the Africa Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. We want to celebrate the application of the gender parity principle in the African Union Commission.
· We celebrate Africa for trusting a capable African leader, mother and elder, Dr Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma, the first woman to lead the African Union Commission. We commit our availability, expertise, commitment and support in leading African Renaissance.
· We celebrate the recent trend in increased numbers of women in senior leadership positions such as Heads of State; in parliaments, commissions, in diplomatic services and other spaces of decision making in our communities. However, this trend is too slow and insufficient considering that women comprise fifty two percent of the population. Increased number of women in decision making encourages young women and girls to aspire on their own dreams.
· We celebrate the positive strides in progress in education for the girls; the reduction in prevalence in HIV especially among women, some notable increase access of health facilities in some countries. Technology and mobile telephony has increased access to information, access to services, amplified our voices. These are building blocks for the future young women want.
· We celebrate the women’s movement and the social movement for raising the gender issues affecting young women and girls and leveraging opportunities for young women. We therefore encourage stronger intergenerational leadership and support of young women’s initiatives.
· We celebrate our sisters, young women and girls across the continent and in the diaspora, who against all odds continue to strive for a better life for themselves, their families, nations and communities. We carry the dreams, hope and dreams of Africa, and of the world we want as global citizens.
It is with sadness, anger and frustration that:
· Young women remain disempowered marginalized and excluded. Young women continue to have limited access to information, training, education and technology. We continue to have limited access to quality, affordable, youth friendly education, health and legal services.
· Young people especially those living in rural communities, in urban slums and refugee and displaced camps face extreme unacceptable levels of poverty and have the highest levels of vulnerability particularly young women living with disabilities.
· Many young women living with HIV in our continent continue to be discriminated against and do not have quality access to sexual reproductive health services and access to treatment. We know it is possible to have zero new infections in children and no AIDS related deaths in our lifetime.
· Many young women on our continent continue to experience violence in their homes, at school, countries in conflict, on internet, at the work place, in places of worship, and in political spaces. Such violence includes incest, rape, verbal abuse, stalking, emotional and psychological abuse. These are criminal acts that should be treated as such. Again we continue to have limited access to services for survivors and victims of violence and unacceptable levels of impunity.
· There is a lack of quality productive employment and decent jobs with most young people especially young women being employed in the informal and vulnerable employment sectors. Beyond jobs, we committed entrepreneurs and innovators, ready to turn our pain into gain for the continent and for our families.
· Two thirds of the 40 million African children who do not attend school are girls, while only about 60 percent of girls who go to primary school and the majority, 53.2 percent of African women are illiterate. Education for girls is the main key for opening the doors to the future for gender equality.
We, the African young women are committed to building a new narrative for Africa with our skills, expertise and lived experiences through:
· Our groundedness with our families, communities and social and economic spaces. Our creativity, innovation and connectedness in our countries in the regions and beyond.
· Harnessing the power of technology in shaping a prosperous Africa, and with peace with itself. Effective participation and contribution in public policy as part of the women and youth’s movement.
· Speak out when violated; to educating other young women and girls.
· Being in solidarity with our sisters globally especially in response to issues of because of rights.
We therefore identify the following Priorities and Recommendations:
Priorities and Recommendations
1. Violence against Women and Girls
We want a future free of violence against women and girls at all levels and in all spaces. We especially call for violence prevention, support to survivors and victims of violence, access to justice and ending impunity. And we recommend:
1) The removal of negative cultural and religious practices and norms that create vulnerability to violence of young women such as child and forced marriage; and build on the positive cultural religious practices that promote the dignity and respect for young women and girls.
2) Implementation of laws and policies that protect women’s rights especially the rights of young women and girls and increase knowledge on human rights for young people.
3) Increase in access to quality resources and funding for programs targeted at violence prevention and support to survivors of violence.
4) Creation and support of safe spaces for young women and girls to access information counseling and referral services.
5) The Adoption of an AU Resolution for all African governments to end impunity in the fight against sexual violence against women and bring an end to child marriage.
6) The provision of legal assistance for young women and girls to access justice and ensure stiff sentences for sexual abusers of girls including through such measures such as castration.
7) Prioritization of economic empowerment and education for girls as critical aspects of prevention of violence against women.
An unacceptable number of young women die due to preventable maternal complications including unsafe abortions. HIV prevalence among young people, teenage pregnancies and early marriages are still high due to lack of access to sexual reproductive health information and services. We therefore recommend that:
1) Governments should prioritize health and not guns; and create access to affordable youth friendly health care services.
2) Increase numbers of motivated and well-resourced health workers; of whom the majority serving poor communities are young women.
3) Increase health services for women with disabilities, especially young women and girls with mental health.
4) Ensure that resources available globally such as the Global Fund on HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, the U.N Trust Fund on Violence against women; as well as development banks at the national, regional development banks must have a special window to respond to issues of young women and health.
3. Peace & Conflict
Today, as young women we are hurting together with our sisters in countries that are experiencing conflict such as Mali, Congo, Central African Republic and Sudan. We remain in fear of violence for countries going into elections such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Togo. We stand in solidarity with our sisters who are re-building their communities in post conflict countries such as Liberia, Sierra Léon, Cote de Ivoire, Burundi among others. Our lives as young women are also threatened by general levels of criminal behavior, community violence and disasters like Marikina and religious conflicts like those in the Northern part of Nigeria. The situation in North Africa remains a concern as Africa finds lasting solutions to all these problems.
As young women our dream for Africa is a continent of peace, of coexistence and good neighborliness. We therefore recommend the following:
1) Young people should not be exploited for military and political purposes but should be a resource for building democracy and a just society. Young people should be part of the mediations in finding lasting solutions in crises
3) The African Union should appoint a high level special representative for violence against women and girls and facilitate the effective participation of women in mediation and conflict resolution.
4) Young people should be deployed as observers during elections as a contribution to building the culture of peace.
5) Ensure protection for young human rights and peace advocates.
We recognize that there has been significant progress in advancing education for girls. However it has focused mainly on primary education and not sufficiently on vocational and tertiary education. Education is key to unlocking opportunities for employment, leadership a life free of violence, empowerment of women.
1) Ensure comprehensive and age appropriate sexuality education.
2) Promoting sport that focuses on young women as part of mental, physical and intellectual development.
3) Promote female artisanship, art and culture as part of passing on the African identity.
4) Resourcing local learning centers in rural schools including developing rural resource centers and libraries to give access to information.
5) Languages are the potential in promoting African identity, and therefore governments should promote indigenous languages as well as African Union languages from primary education.
5. Economic Empowerment
Economic empowerment of young people is the bedrock for creating a prosperous Africa, and especially creating opportunities for entrepreneurship and decent employment for young women. This can be achieved by:
· Creating a framework to enable the training of young women in entrepreneurship and the mentorship and Committing to empower young people by giving them spaces and opportunities to learn and build capacity through internship programs.
· Ensuring opportunities for accessing employment and decent jobs.
· Implementing and enforcing policies that guarantee the right of women to land and property ownership;
· Governments must adapt policies that protect the rights of Domestic Workers that prevent labor exploitation.
· Improving right of girls and women to inherent and own property.
Young women are leaders of today and not tomorrow. Today the leadership of young people remains invisible in public institutions, the private sector, media organizations and civil society and women’s networks. Yet, young people have ideas, expertise and experience that can shape democracy and civic engagement for the achievement of a transformative agenda. This can be achieved through:
· Shifts in attitudes that leadership is about knowledge, commitment, responsibility, trust and lived experiences and young people can be trusted and therefore young people can be given leadership opportunities.
· Internship and fellowship programs for young women within the AU and other institutions at all levels
· Inter-generational leadership for building structures that groom leaders.
· Creation of a fund at regional level specifically aimed at empowering young women.
· Encouraging government to appoint ambassadors for women and girls as an advocacy and policy strategy for the African Decade for Women.
· Leadership of Africa to be exemplary.
In conclusion we would like to thank the World YWCA for convening this summit. We also would want to extend our sincere appreciation to our partners who have shown great commitment in supporting young women’s leadership, namely: U.N Women, Urgent Action Fund Africa, UNFPA, Angie Brookes. FAS, Girls Not Brides, The Partnership of Maternal, New-born and Child Health, Action Aid and others that have not been mentioned. As young women we are committed to moving this agenda forward with support from the women’s movements and our partners.