During Equal Futures 2023: A Gender Equality Summit, in May, CanWaCH hosted a panel discussion on Rural, Remote and Northern 2SLGBTQIA+ Voices Leading the Way for Advancing Equity and Social Change. As the panelists introduced themselves, Grey Cabot-Blanc remarked, “I’m honored to be here with all of you, but I feel like I don’t belong here because you all do all this work and I am still learning and continuing my journey.” As the discussion went on, other speakers acknowledged the power of youth in creating meaningful change and advancing gender equality. “It’s part of our 2-Spirit-way. We pass on what we learn, that’s part of mentoring. And there will come a time when you’re going to do the same, passing that on to the younger 2-Spirit generations.”
We left this session inspired by the commitment of Indigenous young peoples to learn from and follow in the footsteps of role models such as mothers and grandmothers to take on leading roles in their communities.
At CanWaCH, we recognize the essential role youth play in bettering the world, and we strive to uplift their achievements. On this International Youth Day, we celebrate the ways #YouthLead and showcase the resilience, resourcefulness, and leadership of our Youth Working Group (YWG) members.
YWG members all work to advance gender equality in their communities in various ways. Sophia Mirzayee creates learning opportunities for Canadian youth and educators to help them engage more deeply with gender equality, climate change, health, and education, among other issues. Rae Jardine works in SRHR through community organizing, community-based direct support programs, advocacy, and the creation of education content for pregnant and parenting youth. Deborah Ola is committed to ensuring that the voices of women and girls are heard when designing and implementing strategies around Neglected Tropical Diseases as they are disproportionately affected by them. Christina Ricci uses data to quantify the extent of gaps in public health issues within Indigenous female, pregnant, and youth communities.
We asked them about meaningful youth engagement, finding joy in their work and advice they have to share. Read their reflections below!
What does meaningful youth engagement and inclusion mean to you?
“It means actively dismantling barriers to facilitate youth being able to participate on equal terms throughout all stages and levels of decision-making processes. Meaningful youth engagement isn’t just about including youth in spaces with adults but about supporting youth work, youth-led organizations, and spaces where youth work independently from adults. That’s adequately funding youth work with sustainable and transparent funding schemes that meet their needs and increase their access to resources and opportunities. Meaningful youth engagement needs to serve not only the community but also the youth behind the work. That includes practices such as fairly compensating for labor and ensuring that their voices are heard and respected and that they’re treated like the invaluable experts that they are.” –Rae Jardine
“Meaningful youth engagement and inclusion means taking in different perspectives and celebrating differences. This creates space for everyone to provide their opinion and allows for healthy disagreement sparking change in systems bigger than ourselves.” –Amirah Nazir
“Meaningful youth engagement means understanding that the world’s issues are complex and require collaborative thinking. This means that the conversations we are having must include those with lived experiences, diverse opinions and thoughts, and an underlying passion to address the root causes of these inequalities. It is essential that as young people, we take the time to understand how gender inequality is interconnected in so many of the issues we face in the world and are open to looking at these issues through new and inclusive lenses so that our interventions are appropriate, inclusive, and effective.”Deborah Ola
“It means, in part, giving youth their rightful place as key decision-makers and policy developers in all matters that concern them. It also means regarding youth as intellectual equals rather than downplaying their intellectual and creative capital.”Sophia Mirzayee
“[Meaningful youth engagement means] really understanding the wants and the needs of young people and putting their voices at the forefront. Saying, what can we do to help? What can we learn from you? What can we learn together?”Zein Hindawi
“I believe meaningful youth engagement involves the representation and involvement of youth at all levels. This also includes an honest reflection on how communities engage youth and potential avenues to improve youth engagement.”Adham Elsherbini
What gives you hope/joy in your work?
“Watching the fellow youth with whom I work to learn, grow, evolve, connect, and unleash their unbounded ingenuity and passion for change-making is deeply gratifying and is one of the greatest joys of my career. They inspire me to not abandon hope, even amidst the greatest challenges or roadblocks.”Sophia Mirzayee
“What gives me hope is seeing so many inspiring women leaders who are standing up and pushing for change within their communities although they have been ignored and not taken seriously in the past. Their resilience, perseverance, and passion inspire me and other youth to keep striving for a more equitable world.”Deborah Ola
A piece of advice?
“Honor, in every way you can, your essential role in helping to create a more sustainable, peaceful, and prosperous world.”Sophia Mirzayee
“Do what makes you the most terrified and trust yourself that you will get through it. I’m slowly learning that making yourself uncomfortable is the best way to bring about change within yourself and within your community.”Amirah Nazir
“Demand authentic engagement, seek opportunities where you can actively participate in and grow. Your insights, experiences, and ideas are valuable, ensure they’re taken seriously. Focus on spaces where you and your contributions are genuinely valued.”Rae Jardine
“I advise all young people to maintain a critical lens when engaging in opportunities so they can recognize when they are being discredited as youth and when they are being appreciated.”Adham Elsherbini
Earlier this year, members of the Youth Working Group sat down with the Minister of International Development for a youth roundtable. Read a snapshot of key takeaways and reflections from the discussion here.