Anne-Sophie Lois of Plan International and IGC Global Board sits down with Nanako, a youth advocate from the YWCA of Japan and Steasy in Kenya connected to Plan International’s She Leads programme. Listen to hear the two young leaders' reflections from this year’s CSW66 and how they work towards feminist climate justice in their communities.
Hello! I'm Anne-Sophie Lois, Senior United Nations Representative New York and Geneva for Plan International, a member of the Global Board and the International Gender Champions. When I was asked to participate in this podcast about CSW, I strongly felt that rather than me, it would be far better to hear directly from young people themselves, who although are not formally part of IGC, are undoubtedly gender champions in their own right. I call on those leaders listening to this episode, to think about how you too can contribute to a shift in power, where we share - if not fully give up - our privileged platform, to instead hear directly from young people. This is central to the work of Plan International and the World YWCA, as well as the core part of my personal pledge as a Gender Champion.
Today, I'm delighted to speak to Nanako, a 26-year-old youth advocate from YWCA of Japan, and Steasy, a 20-year-old youth advocate from Kenya working with Plan International through the "She Leads" programme, two young women leaders who have been taking an active seat at the table during the 66th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66), the UN's largest gathering on gender equality, which took place from 14-25 of March 2022.
Steasy lives in Kenya, went to the African Institute of Research and Development Studies to study early childhood development education, and has also been trained in sexual and reproductive health and rights. Steasy is an actor and a girls' rights advocate at Amazon Theatrix Ensemble where she loves acting, and she believes that through performing art, she can express her thoughts on issues young women like herself face in her daily life. Steasy has addressed various issues affecting young women in different communities, such as sexual and gender-based violence, violent extremism, sanitation, peace and conflict resolution, and democracy and governance. Steasy has also participated in a virtual storytelling workshop with girls from different parts of the world, where girls' voices are heard in their stories.
Nanako lives in Kyoto, Japan, and has been engaged in YWCA as a volunteer for four years. Her main concern is women's career development, and she sees the lack of confidence and participation of women in decision-making processes or courses. To tackle the situation, she has organised leadership workshops based on Rise Up! - the leadership guide book by World YWCA - for school girls, so that they can make informed decisions about their own lives. Nanako has initiated various other projects, such as safe space conversations for young women leaders in Japan, international youth dialogues and study groups, or SRHR and mental health. Through these advocacies, Nanako encourages women of all generations to showcase their leadership in their styles, as she believes every person has the strength, worth, value and power to be a transformative leader.
So, now I would like to welcome you. Welcome Steasy, welcome Nanako. And thank you so much for taking the time to record this podcast. I will ask a question. The first question goes to both of you, but I would like you, Steasy, to start, and then you, Nanako, can respond after. The question is: this year, the Commission focused on the theme "Achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes". CSW's work continues to remain essential in strengthening the global framework for gender equality and empowering women, young women, and girls. Can you please share some of your reflections from this year's CSW66? What do you see as the main takeaways? Over to you.
Thank you so much for your time. One of the reflections that I can share is that I am really glad that young leaders and some government officials come together in order to fight for girls' rights in relation to climate. And also, the fact that some governments have issued policies that have brought a very positive impact on girls' rights. Prior to the CSW, we had the Member States roundtable, where myself and the other thirteen girls and young women who were part of the She Leads' CSW youth delegation had the opportunity to speak directly to the Member States about our lived experiences of climate change and the impact on girls' rights. We also got to be involved in meeting with the UN Youth Envoy. And I was really glad to be part of that. And I was able to speak at the CSW66 Youth Forum to discuss the girls' rights issues that I am most passionate about, such as SRHR - that is sexual and reproductive health and rights - and also ending period stigma so that girls can stay in school and get a good education.
These examples of our engagement at CSW66 showed the importance of having the voices of girls and young women at the centre of all decisions that impact our lives. I was also glad to hear in the Oral Statement how government officials – our leaders – were finding a way - or looking for a way - in which they could communicate to young girls and adolescents, in a language they could really relate to, in a language they could really understand too. Those are just some of the reasons why I'm glad to be part of this podcast. And I hope that world leaders who are listening to this take this as an example of why it is so very important to hear directly from us, the girls and the youth. Thank you so much.
Well, thank you so much for this really informative and strong contribution. Fantastic. Now, I would like to ask you the same question, Nanako. So, if you could share your reflection from this year's CSW? And what do you see as the main takeaways? Over to you.
Thank you so much. I have three reflections to share. As a first, I recognise the fact that the voices of those who are not in the dominant groups are really hard to hear. While preparing for my parallel event and joining the others, I saw decision-making processes with no diversity, again and again. I want to require people with power to pay close attention to the reality and the needs of the people who are not in the dominant groups.
Secondly, my main takeaway is that women and girls are not only a big theme of the climate crisis and gender inequality, but also advocates who can make contributions to solving the issues. Bringing the situation of those most affected by the crisis to the decision-making table is one of the keys to successful programmes. And the fact that they are involved in the process empowers them. Activists are repeatedly told the importance of speaking up to raise awareness while recognising that not all of us can do so. One parallel event introduced the power of visual storytelling, which uses photos of people on the frontlines of the climate crisis to the representation of daily life. I also learnt new facts during CSW as well as ideas and ways to take action.
Lastly, during these two weeks of CSW, I was very inspired by the speakers and the young women leaders with whom I organised our parallel event. I was surprised when I heard that more than 750 parallel events would be listed up because it showed the scale of the global movement. I was greatly encouraged to make a further step forward. These are my reflections.
Thank you so much, Nanako, for your strong three points and your overarching reflections. It is very important to have the voices of the two of you and of so many young people. We will go to the second question, I will remain with you Nanako for this one. Gender drivers and impacts of environmental degradation and climate change amplify existing gender equality. Can you please explain what barriers you see women and girls face to fully, meaningfully and equally participate in climate-related governance processes, and what can be done by leaders to remove these obstacles? Over to you, Nanako.
Thank you, Anne. I think one of the barriers is patriarchy. Those in the dominant groups and at the top of the hierarchy set the policies for their own sakes. Also, women and marginalised groups’ activism has often been treated as noise by the authorities without any reasonable explanation. However, it is true that thanks to the grassroots activism of civil society, some people with power have started to change their mindset and include diverse people at the table. It is important for us as members of civil society to constantly deliver our voice and reality to the decision-makers, so as not to allow them to put us aside. We can also make efforts to increase the number of people who can advocate for climate and gender justice. And this is why I have organised the leadership workshops as a young woman leader in YWCA.
Finally, though this is not from the CSW66, I'd like to share a phrase that has encouraged me to keep engaging with the global movement. It is: if one person says a negative thing alone, it is a complaint. If two people say it together, it becomes an opinion. If three people say it, it is the beginning of a movement. When it is said by many, it becomes a way to transform society. So now, I greatly encourage you, the audience, to take action together. Thank you.
Nanako, thank you so much for this very powerful statement. I would like now to go over to you, Steasy, with a question. As a young woman leader, can you please share an example of what you think has worked well, of something that you see has had a real impact, and that you would like to see more of, which advances both climate actions and gender equality? Over to you, Steasy.
Thank you so much, Anne. A lot of my work is about the need to educate girls and communities about menstrual health and hygiene, and also about a ton of harmful gender norms. Personally, over the last few years, I have worked on a campaign about ending period stigma. There was a lot of period stigma.
For example, in a case where an adolescent girl has started her period, if she's at school and her peers start laughing at her, she will go home and stay home until her period ends. When she comes back, since she will be lagging behind with the syllabus and ask the teacher what he or she taught previously in the class, the teacher might ask, "Why didn't you come to school?". She is going to feel so shameful about telling the teacher what really happened because she is going to be afraid that the teacher might embarrass her in front of her peers.
That was a very major problem that my team and I thought of addressing, an issue that especially happens in rural areas. From the start of the campaign until now, I have been able to see a really big, big change, because girls are now able to understand their periods and no longer feel ashamed about them. Also, at the same time, their peers can now understand the whole process that girls go through. With campaigns such as mine, hopefully, by 2030, period stigma will no longer be a problem.
As you stated before, I am an actor, and I am so passionate about using acting as a tool for advocacy because we know and we have noticed that youth, young girls and adolescents are so attracted by entertainment. So, as we entertain them, we also educate them at the same time. That is where we use entertainment. We educate and entertain them, using plays and skits, so that they can be educated while at the same time being entertained.
For example, I put on a play where we discussed how we can engage the government officials and other stakeholders like Plan International, on how to make sure that every girl can be able to access sanitary products, no matter their circumstances, or no matter what they are going through. We have also noticed that there is a lack of sanitary products, especially in rural areas. Personally, I was thinking about how we can involve the government officials so that they can at least offer reusable sanitary products to girls because it's going to be better for the environment. And we need to teach them why this is the case. So this is a very important campaign, and it can achieve change in the near future because our girls need to stay in school, #GirlsInSchool. Thank you so much, Anne.
Thank you so much, Steasy, for this real example of breaking down stigmas and also using creative methods for advancing the cause and strong advocacy. I would like to thank you both so much for your insights and for the powerful elements that you brought forward. And for sharing with fellow Champions the need for the promotion and protection of girls and women's rights in climate action. It is so important to have the voices of the girls and young women who are on the frontline of girls' rights and climate justice at the heart of these discussions. We have so much to learn from you, your lived experiences, and your impactful work. I mean, this podcast for me, you know, what you have shared, has been really, really powerful. So, to all of you who are listening, you have heard directly just how powerful the voices and expertise of youth are. And I once again implore other Gender Champions to explore ways of sharing your own power and platforms with girls and young people, so that we can work together to shift the power. Steasy and Nanako, I wish you all the best for all your upcoming advocacy work. Thank you very much and have a wonderful continuation of your work. Thanks.