We must be loud: Youth addressing the Elephant in the Room
Author: Jocelyn Pederick
'The Elephant in the Room' was an innovative event held on the first day of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence that poses the question, ‘Am I A Feminist?’ It aimed to help "sow seeds of change" through storytelling and facilitating discussions that demystified feminism and envisioned a future free from violence against women.
The event was the inaugural event for UN Women's 30 for 2030 initiative, a youth leadership network that brings together young decision-makers, eminent civic and business innovators, feminists, entrepreneurs, technology pioneers, educators, activists, artists, and journalists, from across Asia and the Pacific. Together they are driving, dialogue, action, and positive change for gender equality, and progress towards the 2030 Agenda.
Hafsah Muheed, a 27-year-old member from Sri Lanka, said, "it's the most diverse group of young feminists from Asia and the Pacific, geographically, professionally, in all ways."
Muheed has been organising at the grassroots for more than seven years, with a career in advocacy spanning gender, wellbeing, climate change, peacebuilding, and human rights, including the founding of her own feminist organisation, 'Amplifying Impact'. Muheed has built a life based on feminist ideals. "What inspired me was my reality. I did not know the word feminism until I was 21. But for me, like other young people, without asking, the responsibility has come to us. So, whether it is the climate movement or the gender equality movement, without asking, we've had no choice but to work on it. So, we are getting it done and holding leaders accountable."
Fellow 30 for 2030 member, Lauralyn, is a Filipina third-culture individual, tech-start-up whiz, and communications expert. Her work is founded in applying the power of mass communication to the ambitions of the gender equality movement. For Lauralyn, inspiration is also drawn from lived experience. "It all started when I experienced sexual harassment. After that, I became more vocal about my experiences, which made me an advocate of gender-based violence. I think it is a privilege to speak up. It allows me to heal from the trauma I've experienced, and it also uses it as a lesson for others to prevent others from experiencing the same thing."
The 30 for 2030 network was formed in August 2022. Its scope and reach reflect the remarkable diversity of its members. Lauralyn said, "it's inspiring and amazing because you are in a group of 30 individuals who bring so many different things to the table and cover many thematic areas. So, it's really inspiring to work with these people and see different perspectives as well."
"The Elephant in the Room" aimed to reach an audience that often views feminism as a ‘dirty word’. Muheed said, "The Elephant in the Room is the f-word: feminism. We have many people who say they are concerned about young girls not getting an education in Afghanistan or domestic violence, but they would never identify as feminists. I've had very close friends who would never use that word, but they are of similar values. So, I think we just wanted to bridge that gap and create a safe space where we can talk about the thing we don't talk about."
The event was also responding to the rise of opposition to gender equality in the region. Silva said, "We wanted to tackle the rising men's rights movement and online gender-based violence. We thought, what is the root cause of these issues? And we realised there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the word feminism itself. So, we are trying to combat those misconceptions to show how gender equality benefits everyone."
The event was modelled on a human library format, where participants could join discussion groups hosted by diverse storytellers, speaking on various themes, including climate change, sexual reproductive health, disability, LGBTQ+ Rights, mental health, and technology, amongst others.
Muheed explains. "If you look at gender-based violence, it's rooted in each and every one of these thematic areas. GBV is one of the biggest crises we have, and often the issue is that we work on silos and tend to miss the cross-sectional impact."
30 for 2030 has also recently released the Youth Guide to End Online GBV; and will continue to build their profile over the coming months. Wherever you find them, and they will be reminding us that youth voices are essential to the movement for gender equality and ending violence against women.
"We need young people on advisory boards, and in parliament and in CSOs. Youth need a platform. People make the mistake of thinking you need to give youth a voice. Young people already have a voice. They just need a platform to share it," said Muheed.
Silva said, "We are the future. There's so little youth representation, and it's ridiculous because that's not a reflection of what society looks like. So, we need youth to be louder in spaces where we're given the opportunity. We must be loud!"
The event is available online here.