Gender-equality, and a Conversation with the UN-SRSG Zainab Bangura

On Monday, Youth to End Sexual Violencewas at the United Nations to advocate for the development of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) #3, on gender-equality and women’s empowerment, during the MDG 500 event with Malala Yousafzai and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

There was widespread support for male involvement in women's empowerment initiatives, and everybody agreed that we need to focus on gender-equality within the next 500 days before the MDG target date. One representative from New York University exemplified our concerns in saying, “How can we achieve gender-equality if 50% of the population is being marginalized?” In order to realize our goals of gender-equality and women’s empowerment, there must be significant political will from developing and developed states to invest in long-term gender-role transformation. Education has been hailed as the obvious facilitator for such initiatives, though access to formal, quality education services is limited in conflict-affected areas. Given this, the role of NGOs in providing support to local education services can not be understated. To realize our goal within the next 500 days, we must foster a strong relationship between youth, NGOs, and government actors. We also emphasise that transformative gender-role education must seek to eliminate all social and cultural norms that propagate violence against women and sexual violence. Sexual violence against men and boys is one area where further development is required to achieve gender-equality. Though male victims of rape and sexual violence will likely never exceed the number of female victims, it remains prevalent in many conflicts. Male sexual violence is perpetuated by the stigma that shames and humiliates men and boy victims. The first step to eliminating the stigma is by ensuring that gender-transformative education includes content to address and dispel the myths and rumors which have rooted themselves firmly in communities and the minds of many young men and women. Addressing this silence will help to transform the concepts of masculinity which confine male victims, and enable violence against women.

We need #change.

We also spoke to the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (UN SRSG-SVC), Zainab Bangura, on the role of youth in combatting sexual violence and supporting NGO and government initiatives. In addition to being a champion of human rights, SRSG Bangura and her office have been incredibly supportive of Youth to End Sexual Violence, and the engagement of young people in these issues. While discussing the Draft Youth Recommendations, and the development of the Youth Action Toolkit & Recommendations (launching in Fall 2014), the SRSG pointed out that children, especially children born of rape, have been the primary victims of wartime rape. She said that children born of rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina are now teenagers and have grown up experiencing an ‘identity crisis.’ There is a lack of available psychosocial support and humanitarian services available to children born from rape in conflict, and the silence surrounding their suffering and the discrimination they face is deafening. Youth to End Sexual Violence recognises this lack of support as a gross injustice, and calls upon government actors and NGOs to provide support for these children, who are carrying the stigma of victimhood on into their generation.

We know young people feel enraged, impassioned, and ready to act in response to the injustice and conflict we hear about everyday, but the path for definitive action is largely undefined. When asked how youth can be apart of the change they want to see, SRSG Bangura said, “Youth have to see what they have. They have access to information and knowledge that was unheard of by the previous generation. Youth need to understand that they already have everything in their hands needed to make a difference. They have the capacity and the tools to change mindsets and attitudes - more so than any other generation.” Taking SRSG Bangura’s words to heart, we promise to continue raising awareness and working to engage other young people in dialogues with NGOs and government on #SexualViolence.

Help us to #EndTheSilence.

This September Youth to End Sexual Violence is launching a Youth Action Toolkit + Recommendations to End Sexual Violence. Be apart of the movement. Follow us @Youth2ESV or on Facebook at

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