Youth speak up on women’s rights

On International Women’s Day, people around the world celebrate the success of women and discuss the challenges that remain for women’s rights. Politicians, women in the media, businesswomen, and human rights activists all proclaim that women should be treated with respect and dignity. Today CIPE adds an additional voice to that mix: the voice of youth. In remarkable essays from youth in India and Kenya, winners of CIPE’s 2010 International Youth Essay contest detail what they see as the biggest challenges to women’s empowerment, and what societies can do to overcome them.

In her first place-winning essay, Deepa Kylasam Iyer discusses customs that impair women’s prospects in India, such as child marriages, perversions of traditional customs such as bride price, honor killings, and caste discrimination. She writes, “The medieval notions of purity and chastity that plague my country are anti-democratic and contradict the precepts of human rights. It is in this context of social realities that the barriers facing Indian women need to be analyzed.”

Read the full article here:
http://www.cipe.org/publications/fs/pdf/031111Deepa.pdf

From Kenya, Claris Gatwiri Kariuki discusses women’s status in a historical context. As women lost access and control of land during the British colonial era, they became economically dependent on men, which intensified domestic patriarchy. Since Kenya gained independence, however, women still face barriers to self empowerment such as high levels of illiteracy, “family voting” practices in which men lead women to voting booths and sway their decisions, and female genital mutilation.

Read the full article here:
http://www.cipe.org/publications/fs/pdf/031111Claris.pdf

The third winner, who wishes to remain anonymous, condemns gender-based violence in India. She writes, “Every year in the hinterlands of progressive India, hundreds of women are branded as witches, humiliated, assaulted, ostracized, and even lynched. How can we dream of women’s emancipation in a world that breeds such ignorance and hypocrisy?”

Read the full article here:
http://www.cipe.org/publications/fs/pdf/031111Anon.pdf

The young authors do not only write about challenges, however – they also present a way forward. For example, Deepa recommends that the government of India deposit a nominal sum in a girl’s name when she is born. When a girl turns 18 and is unmarried, she would be able to access the account and use the money to fund a business, pursue further education, or as part of her dowry for a marriage of her choice.   

Where there is family voting in Kenya, Claris suggests the establishment of separate polling places for men and women, as well as gender-separated voter education programs. She also suggests decentralized entry points into the political arena so that women can gain political experience locally and then climb the political ladder.

The anonymous author builds her essay around the need for education in India. She also makes the case that entrepreneurial endeavors can change societal perceptions of women, and that the government should introduce quotas for women in business schools run by the government.

These youth have great potential for their societies and the future of women. Deepa works on the Jaago Nari project, which means “Awake Woman” in Hindi. She aims to bring about women’s empowerment through an inclusive national agenda. Claris is a young lawyer in Kenya who is dedicating her career to promoting and protecting human rights, democracy, and good governance in her country. The anonymous writer created a social venture that educates rural women with the help of student volunteers. 

Youth such as the winners of CIPE’s Youth Essay Competition are uniquely placed to bring about reforms and changes to better the lives of women in their countries. They represent great potential and deserve to be heard. To learn more, check out their essays at http://www.cipe.org/featureservice/?p=586.

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