Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network (CYGEN)

Discriminatory gender norms are a central underpinning factor affecting the lives of young people in the Commonwealth today. Diverse issues from discrimination in employment, to sexual violence, to child marriage are all products of deep-rooted gender inequality. Although young people have often been victims of gender-based discrimination they are also well placed to combat these problems and build equality.

The aim of CYGEN is to build a network of young people from across the Commonwealth who can collaborate and share good practice in their work. Youth voices on gender issues are not represented in formal Commonwealth youth structures, and this is a vacuum which urgently needs to be filled in order to create a more robust network of advocates, who can effectively push for policy change at local, national, regional and international levels.

CYGEN at the United Nations and Commonwealth Week 2016

In March 2016 CYGEN helped to run the first ever Youth Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on the fringes of the official United Nations CSW. CYGEN participated as a member of an inter-agency working group of gender equality and youth organisations convened by UN Women. As well as speaking at the event and supporting the organisation of the conference, CYGEN representatives from Sri Lanka and Kenya, spoke at the Commonwealth Meeting of National Women’s Machineries and helped to launch a new global campaign, #Levelthelaw, to equalise gender discriminatory laws across the world.

Meanwhile CYGEN's co-ordinator, Sarah Soysa, was in London to attend the launch of the 2016 Commonwealth theme, 'An Inclusive Commonwealth', she attended Royal Commonwealth Society events and met HM The Queen. She also attended the Commonwealth Secretariat’s youth week to build new partnerships with Commonwealth organisations and youth-led networks including the Commonwealth Youth Council, Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network and the Commonwealth Youth Human Rights and Democracy Network.


CHOGM 2015 Youth Forum featuring a speech by CYGEN Co-ordinator Sarah Soysa

The Royal Commonwealth Society caught up with Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja, to discuss the CHOGM Women's Forum

During the Women’s Forum at CHOGM, CYGEN ran a session with the help of the RCS to foster inter-generational dialogue on empowering young gender equality champions. The session brought together speakers from the Commonwealth Secretariat, UN Women, and civil society groups along with audience members from both the Women’s Forum and Youth Forum. Practical recommendations drawn up as part of this dialogue included urging national youth councils to recruit gender advisers to ensure adequate representation, and ensuring national curricula have a ‘gender lens’.

CYGEN and the RCS also met with the Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja to present these recommendations and to discuss building a youth voice into global gender discussions, including the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministerial Meeting in 2016.


The Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network (CYGEN) forum opened on 13th May 2015 and ran for five days. The RCS convened young experts on a range of gender issues from over 20 countries in Malta for the forum. The network released its statement of priorities and recommendations for the Commonwealth at the close of the forum. The network released its statement of priorities and recommendations for the Commonwealth at the close of the forum, see The Gender Agenda: Youth Perspectives from Across the Commonwealth. 

Highlights from the final Day of the CYGEN forum

Youth Chair, John Loughton's full length closing speech

The forum brought together young professionals and experts in an inter-generational learning environment through workshops, discussions and training sessions. The interaction aimed to develop knowledge in a range of areas, including various gender issues, effective advocacy, and further practical skills. A range of key gender inequality issues that the Commonwealth faces was discussed, as participants worked together to develop key strategies and policies to tackle these issues. Workshops and discussions were facilitated by trainers and experts, and served as a space to share knowledge and experience, gain a greater understanding of the issues more clearly in a global context, and explore how to advocate more effectively at key moments, particularly within Commonwealth structures.

Highlights from Day One

Opening speeches delivered by the Youth Chairs Gulalai Ismail and John Loughton.

RCS President, Lord Howell, delivers opening speech.

Sign up for our newsletters