Youth take centre stage to mark International Women’s Day

Date:

Author: Christopher Dickson

Photo: UN Women/Emad Karim

Some impressive and inspirational young speakers took the podium in Bangkok on March 8, at an event hosted by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and UN Women’s regional office in honour of International Women’s Day (IWD).

Youth Environment Activist, Lilly Ralyn Satidtanasarn delivering her remarks during the Interactive Dialogue session: Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow. Photo: Scenario/Kreeda Jeerapongplin/UN Women

“Climate change is not only a human rights issue, but it is also a feminist issue,” said Lilly Ralyn Satidtanasarn, a young environmental activist from Thailand. Aged just 14, she gave a passionate yet composed presentation explaining how her campaign against plastic pollution connects to this year’s IWD theme, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.”

“Nearly more than half a million people are migrating to different parts of the world to escape the climate crisis,” said Lilly. “And these women mothers and daughters who are forced to carry their families on their backs will experience disproportionate hardship.”

“Everybody has an equal responsibility to contribute to change, to work together and not against each other. We need to create solutions, not more problems and not more excuses.”

She was speaking to panelists, dignitaries, civil-society practitioners, government officials, academics, and members of the business community gathered in the Thai capital, including in-person and online attendees.

The new generation is particularly affected by the changing climate and also has its own contributions to make to the solutions. Two Thai students, winners of the “Ambassador for a Day” video competition, underlined the importance of social media and communications technology in raising awareness of climate change and its gendered impacts, speaking on the sidelines of the event.

“It’s how we connect with each other, how we talk, communicate, everything,” said Raweekarn ‘Pao Pao’ Amarachgul. More could be done to engage the older generation, which is sometimes more “stuck” on passive media, she said. The other winner, Asmanee Chesuemae, added that access to phones can be a problem even among the youth. “In my community, most people do have access to mobile phones, but many are not smartphones, and some are sharing a phone between four or five people.”

Cindy Bishop, Regional UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific, further illustrated the role of technology by drawing on her own experience as a prominent online personality. “The media coverage of climate change can be too abstract,” she told the audience. “There’s an excessive focus on what’s going to happen in the future, rather than the urgent issues and practical steps that we can be taking today.”

UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific, Cindy Bishop delivering her remarks during the Interactive Dialogue session: Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow. Photo: UN Women/Raiwin Wantaveesub

This alarmist narrative can “challenge our cognitive abilities just because of the magnitude of the situation, and sometimes this can lead to a sense of helplessness,” she said. There is an opportunity here to “simplify and provide accurate information that will inspire climate change in every moment of our day, things like taking advantage of new technologies, new media platforms,” she said.

More powerful storytelling using humour and other creative modes are ”all wonderful ways to put these issues into bite-sized pieces that will resonate better with the public and inspire change,” she said.

Sarah Knibbs, officer-in-charge for UN Women’s regional office emphasized “the inherent connections between combating climate change impacts, reducing disaster risks, and achieving the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals of the UN Agenda 2030]”.

Officer-in-Charge, UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Sarah Knibbs giving the opening remarks at the Regional Commemoration of International Women's Day, 8 March 2022. Photo: UN Women/Emad Karim

This year’s IWD theme “recognizes that women are more vulnerable to natural and conflict-related disasters and climate change impacts than men are, particularly as women constitute the majority of the world poor and are more dependent on natural resources that are threatened the most,” she said.

Women need not only more recognition of this vulnerability but also a great role in decision making, said Armida Alisjahbana, executive secretary of UNESCAP. “Women are underrepresented in parliaments and as environmental ministers and policy makers,” she said. “I hope that the panel discussion later this morning will highlight the role that young people can play in addressing these challenges.”

Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Armida Alisjahbana making the opening remarks at the Regional Commemoration of International Women's Day, 8 March 2022. Photo: UN Women/Raiwin Wantaveesub

“Governments in our region committed to promoting the active role of women as holders of knowledge and agents of change, and the full and equal leadership and participation of women in the Asia-Pacific Declaration on Advancing Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment at the Beijing + 25 Review,” she said. “If we are to achieve a sustainable future, we must live up to these existing commitments and give women the voice and power to make decisions on climate change and disaster risk reduction.”

Wandee Khunchornyakong delivering her remarks during the Interactive Dialogue session: Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow. Photo: UN Women/Raiwin Wantaveesub

The business community was represented by Wandee Khunchornyakong, chair and chief executive of SPCG Public Company Limited, and president of the National Council of Women of Thailand. She stressed the importance, but also the feasibility, of making a credible business case for sustainable innovations such as solar power.

She also echoed the importance of youth going forwards, to “join hands to stop climate change, and also to make a better world for Lilly and our next generation.”

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