Day Two of the Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network launch forum saw some more in-depth discussions, drawing on learning from day one, but also incorporating new perspectives.
The day opened with Dr Ruth Farrugia, from the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, discussing some more theoretical ideas about gender identity and negative social norms. The group had some vital discussions about the way ideas of masculinity and femininity are built and sustained, and how these ideas lead to countless forms of violence – structural, emotional, physical and sexual.
The delegates at this forum will participate in one of five working groups, focusing on: child marriage, sexual and reproductive health and rights, youth transitions, governance, and sexual orientation and gender identity. Today’s discussions began to focus more on these specific thematic areas, and the delegates heard from the five expert working group facilitators who will be supporting the development of ideas and outcomes at this forum.
One central idea that was explored was that of mainstreaming the issues versus working on them separately. Whilst we need the space to explore the range of issues in today’s world that ‘gender’ encompasses, nevertheless, we’re talking about universal values. What really became clear was that, when looking at gender inequality issues, we’re really looking at how marginalised groups are impacted more severely by transgressions of human rights. As Amelia Whitworth, from Plan UK, made clear: "Girls bear a double burden." The same double burden applies to a range of minority groups. However, crucially, girls, young women and women are of course, not a minority group, which is why gender inequality signifies a serious social concern, and one that must be overcome.
In the afternoon, delegates heard from Sister Fa, who led a workshop on female genital cutting (FGC), a significant problem in the Commonwealth, and a global scourge for young women. FGC has devastating and long-lasting health consequences for girls. Prevalence is high in at least seven Commonwealth countries, standing at 88% in Sierra Leone. Sister Fa is a global campaigner working with young people to educate about this practice and work towards ending it. She pointed out that "It's unbelievable that women put themselves through so much pain in order to please men", and that attitudes have to change in order to eliminate FGC.
The delegates finished the day in their working groups, where they began the process of shaping their ideas into more comprehensive strategies.
Tonight, the group went to dinner in Medina, the beautiful, ancient, former capital city of Malta, and will continue with their work in sub-groups tomorrow.