Girls must unapologetically take their place at the table

Hannah Woodward, 23, a member and leader with Girl Guides WA, had the opportunity to stand up for girls and young women last week at the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York (March 13-24).

SO… read on to see what Hannah has to say about her involvement at the 2017 conference dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women throughout the world. 

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I presented the Youth Declaration built throughout the CSW61Youth Forum to the opening session of the 61st Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York.

In preparing my remarks, I wondered: Should I be saying “thank you” for letting me speak? Should I be saying that I am “honoured” to be here?

In all honestly, I am thankful that we had the opportunity to speak out for girls and young women at this high level event, and I am honoured to have been selected to deliver the statement.

But, young women having the chance to say something at the main forum for women’s rights in the world shouldn’t be an honour. It should not be something that we are grateful that the CSW has gone out on a limb to allow us to do.

As a young woman, I have a right to be here. I have a right to be speaking out.

And as girls and young women, we should be actively and meaningfully engaged with every aspect of this conference – not just in a separate “youth” pre-event that was scheduled out the way of the main discussions. Young women need to be in the room making decisions, in negotiations and having a genuine seat at the table.

In the last few years you might say we’ve progressed from banging on the door demanding entry, to having a seat behind decisions makers around the edges of the room. It’s progress, yes. But we still have some work to do to ensure that girls and young women are genuinely and systematically contributing to the decisions that affect our lives, our rights and our world.

I was sitting next to an inspirational young woman who, at 17, is the youngest Australian at CSW this year.  When the room became a little crowded and we looked to rearrange our seating, she immediately said: “I’m not important enough to be at this table” and made to move away.

Our society has ingrained in her, as it has in me, that as a young women we don’t have a right to have a seat at the table. That we can only justify a place in the background, if we make it into the room at all.

We need to change these social norms and challenge these ideas everyday in our language, our assumptions and relationships. As young women and our allies, we need to demand that girls and young women get a seat at the table.

And we need to make room for others to join us, especially those who have overlapping discrimination to overcome.

And then we must not apologise when we get there.

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