I studied at a Peruvian public school for women and they have never told us how to protect ourselves from a pregnancy. My parents always watched over my education and told me that I had to go to college and be someone. On the contrary, most of my classmates came from very difficult contexts: violence in their homes, economic difficulties, some slept in the same room with their parents and siblings which made it difficult for them to concentrate on studying, and their parents never spoke to them about sex. I remember that when we were in 3rd year of secondary school, one of the girls got pregnant.The next year two of them [became pregnant] and the next year three, and so on. One third of my classmates became mothers before age 19, and only 6 out of 30, had the opportunity to access higher education and graduate.
I was very lucky to have the possibility to draw a life plan and the privilege of accessing opportunities. I believe that having these hard experiences made me aware of the importance of sexual and reproductive health for adolescents and also that young girls receive support to create their life projects and access development opportunities which could help us to grow.
Being a girl in my country is not easy. Peru is the third country in the world with the highest rate of sexual violence, 76% of cases of sexual violence affects girls and adolescents and 13% of adolescent women are mothers- in some areas of Peru the percentage reaches 30%. Although I am aware of some progress in legislation, so much more needs to be done to change people's mindset. We often deal with the opposition of conservative groups that do not want sexual and reproductive education to be taught in schools with a gender focus. In this context, talking about gender equality and taking actions that lead to changes at all levels is mandatory.
In 2017, I applied to the Women Deliver Young Leaders program. This program aims to connect young advocates with the platforms, people and resources necessary to expand their advocacy actions with emphasis on Sexual and Reproductive Health. The program provided me training through its digital university, allowed me to expand my network, access opportunities and participate at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada- one of the largest conferences in the world on health, welfare and women's rights. From June 3 to 6, the conference was attended by 8,000 people, including 1,400 young leaders from all over the world.
The first thing that caught my attention was the diversity and inclusion levels in the conference: the participation of representatives from 165 countries, with different experiences, adolescents and youth, leaders, activists, people from the LGTBIQ + community and more. It was a truly global and open space that embraced diversity. The voices and faces of young people were highlighted in the panels, an effort was made to have at least one youth representative in each panel.
I want to highlight three things about the opening ceremony that caught my attention. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, opened the ceremony in the company of the Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam, and Squamish nations and one of the leaders welcomed us. I want to highlight this fact because it was beautiful and at the same time respectful as it shows how the country welcomes and respects migrants, as well as the locals.
In his speech, Trudeau announced that the Canadian government will invest $ 1.4 billion dollars per year to achieve gender equality. This was great news for those of us who were at the conference.
But undoubtedly, what touched us most about the opening ceremony was the intervention of the young Natasha Mwansa, who gave an honest and powerful speech about what young people want. She mentioned the need for the participation of young people in key positions of power; also, the increase of specific budgets for young people and for gender issues. She mentioned the need to strengthen capacities in young people of all countries, accountability processes to close the gap between the real needs of young people and what is provided through the services of governments and the need to create a global friendly system for young people.
This year the conference was about power. The plenaries revolved around how power comes from different areas and can be found at different levels. For example, technology and art can serve to reduce the gender gap, generating resources that meet the needs of women or that make visible our problems, and also including more talented women in their realization. And there may be power in personal stories as well as movements like #NiUnaMenos and #MeToo.
The discussions also involved the questioning of structural power, the question of gender and the status quo, it is an imbalance of power that must be questioned and redistributed so that all of us reach our maximum potential. The dynamics of power must change. It is not enough for young people to ask for changes to people who have political power, but young people and women must have the opportunity to gain power and make the decisions that concern and affect us.
It became clear to me that there is power in youth and we must have a voice and vote in decision-making spaces. Jayathma Wickramanayake, a United Nations youth representative, said at the conference: "For our generation, power is disruption, innovation, connectivity and entrepreneurship. Power is transparency, not secrecy. Power is non-structural fluid. Power is mobilization, not institutionalization. This is why young people must have power, when we have it, positive changes are generated and development reaches all".
But I think the most important lesson is that everyone, from the place where we are, has the power to generate change and achieve gender equality. And we have to start using our individual power now. How? We must ensure that the media does not reproduce gender stereotypes, and support and advise adolescents and women who are traditionally not represented in decision spaces (indigenous women, trans women and afrodescendant women). We have to use our individual power now. How? Advocate that the media challenge gender norms in their content, mentor and support girls and women who have traditionally been underrepresented in decision making, vote with your ballot and your wallet to support gender equality allies, speak up online, in the street and everywhere in between against injustice, donate time or money to women-focused organizations. So I invite you to think: How will you use your power for change?”
I want to finish this blog by thanking the Women Deliver team and its sponsors for making this conference a reality and for the beautiful community of Latinx that we have formed during these days. It has been a wonderful week in which I have met incredible people and learned how they are using their power to generate change in their countries. I really feel inspired to continue working for gender equality. Women Deliver 2019 was a real fuelling station for all of us!
This experience has empowered me both professionally and personally. Throughout my time working at Save the Children I have known stories of empowered girls and teenagers, but I never imagined I will be that empowered girl.