‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back for Youth Participation at CSW’, says Hannah Gissane from the Equality Rights Alliance.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back for Youth Participation at CSW

They say if you can’t get a seat at the table, then bring your own chair.

From the local to the global, young women leaders are well-versed in innovating engagement where our voices are unheard or silenced.

It was this spirit that sparked the CSW Youth Forum leading into the 60th Commission on the Status of Women. The CSW Youth Forum was a youth-led safe space for over 400 young people spanning more than 50 countries. A space to weave together our dreams for a world where women’s human rights are realised and respected.

Over two days we came together, pledging action to raise Agenda 2030 from paper and into our lives. Civil Society youth leaders pledged this action despite the barriers to participation that disenfranchise us from this Agenda. Efforts to bring our communities on the 2030 journey are guided by the promise of growing space for youth participation.

YouthCSW can’t and won’t be a one off - there’s too much energy and passion from young people committed to making CSW inclusive and representative. It was a culmination of determination and the beginning of an institution.

However, Youth CSW’s institutional beginnings have already unravelled somewhat.

In the space of eleven days, we’ve swung from the thrill of the CSW Chair receiving and disseminating the YouthCSW declaration to the excitement of a standalone paragraph appearing in draft 3 of the Agreed Conclusions. The language wasn’t perfect, for example where the words acknowledged “positive contribution,” we would have preferred “critical.” But, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Overall, there was a sense that the decision-makers were making room.

And then, the chipping away started. YouthCSW was questioned and the process by which the paragraph appeared in the draft was interrogated. It could be that certain member states were confused by the forum and the paragraph. It could also, more likely, be that there was distaste for what we proclaimed in our declaration. It could be that our vision jarred too discordantly with the lethargy of CSW60’s Agreed Conclusions.

What is certain in all of this is that opportunities to empower youth participation and contributions are deemed expendable. We can keep bringing our own chairs, but ultimately, for inter and multigenerational leadership to prevail we need to expand and share the table.