Thousands of people from over a hundred countries packed into the general plenary this morning as the Women Deliver Global Conference opened. The main conference objective: empowering women globally. Sometimes the hardest part of a project is identifying the objective, so it seems to me that we, the collection of political, medical, economic, and non-governmental leaders assembled here in London, have made the proper stride in the right direction.
As the rousing applause quieted down following the plenary and the massive conference hall emptied out, a collection of colorful chairs and funky-modern furniture was rolled onto the stage. It was time for the youth panel! Seven inspired, intelligent, empowered, and excited young leaders from around the world walked onto the stage. Sadly, of the thousands who crowded that same room 10 minutes prior, only 20 or so remained scattered around to hear what the world's young people had to say. While I sat, inspired by their words, I was frustrated at a contradiction that manifests itself all too frequently at conferences such as these: although we are aiming to empower women, the assembled global leaders somehow believe that we can achieve this without even lending an ear to an informal discussion among young people.
During the panel discussion, questions from what does "family" mean for today's generation to how do young people impact policy, were considered. Three themes became particularly evident to me while listening to their comments:
- Rhetoric has no value if it is not backed with inclusive action.
- While it would be nice to put "youth" into a monolithic, cohesive group, with one agenda, such thinking is both ignorant and irresponsible.
- Most important: whether or not policy makers and NGO-leaders are listening (they weren't today), young people are redefining social structures and institutions in their own likeness.
If Women Deliver organizers and participants are really going to deliver for women beyond the conference and address the concerns raised in the youth panel, I suggest we put inter-generational collaboration on the list of priorities for governments and civil society. Working together and in true partnership, adults and young people can make a difference so that women and men, both young and older, can truly plan their families and their futures.