Children North East’s Campaigner Katie McSherry has flown out to New York for this year’s Commission on the Status of Women at the UN Headquarters. It’s the principle global intergovernmental organisation exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

In this blog post, Katie reflects on the time she's been spending with some of the inspiring young members of the National Alliance of Women's Organisations (NAWO) youth programme.

Young people are our future. The leaders of tomorrow. I hear this all the time. I've probably said it. But I want to change that narrative. And tell you a different story. And that is that young people are the leaders of today.

Around the world we see emerging examples of young people starting to take action for our shared future. Here at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women I have had the privilege to meet some of them as I mentioned in my diary update

NAWO Youth Programme

'When they speak, rooms go silent'

My highlight of two weeks at the UN? Getting to know these young women set to change the world.

These 16 and 17 year olds from the UK are charismatic, engaged and authoritative. Linking their personal experiences to global issues, they cut through complexity and jargon. When they speak, rooms go silent. They are here in New York, telling the UN, governments, businesses and NGOs what needs to change, why and how, and holding them to account on international law.

The girls are here with the National Alliance of Women's Organisations (NAWO) youth programme. They apply, are interviewed and undertake a training programme in the UK before coming to New York. While they are here, they hold meetings with diplomats and parliamentarians, speak on panels with world experts on topics including international law, economics, trade, sexual violence and public policy, and hold UN global leaders to account on their promises to women and girls.


Challenging process

Together they have spent hours researching and re-writing speeches, practising presenting and giving feedback. Their support and encouragement of each other is central to their ability to have impact here. They have a mentor, Zuleika (18) who was on the programme two years ago and now has an in depth understanding of influencing and UN processes.

This is a challenging process - through which they all grow. It is not easy. But we must know that it is possible. When cultivated, youth can develop the capacity to be involved in decision-making in meaningful ways.

Young people have their own wisdom

Young people surfing

It strikes me that when we talk about young people as being in a state of training for who they will someday become, we perpetuate the idea that youth are merely to study and be filled by the wisdom of others. But this conditioning is disempowering and has lasting consequences.

When treated as passive recipients of the world, the more challenging it is to take up agency, to develop passions and talents to contribute. What a waste of time, energy and potential!

By the time we are adults, our understanding of youth is already outdated, and so we need to engage with young people on their realities to understand them. Such as the issues and solutions needed to address inequality in school, as is captured by Children North East' Poverty Proofing work.

Experts on their own lives

Malala Yousafza quote at the UN Headquarters in New York

Young people are after all the experts on their own lives. In addition, young people can build on their own experiences and put forth views and ideas on other wider social issues, such as the environment, migration, homelessness and healthcare provision. Given that these issues remain unsolved, we might do well to invite their opinions and actions!

The young women I met at the UN are part of a new generation that are waking up to the need for social leadership at all levels of society. They can be seen in light of others including Greta Thunberg, aged 16, who last week was nominated for a Nobel peace prize for her work in initiating the Climate Strike movement. Or previous prize winner, Malala Yousef, a schoolgirl shot at by the Taliban who campaigned on the right to education for girls. 

Leaders of today

Children and young people across the globe see the division and destructive forces in the world and a lack of urgent action for effective change. When provided with encouragement and education, some youth are defying stereotypes, and taking matters into their own hands. And that should make all of us working with children and young people sit up and consider what more we can do to uplift their potential and aid their progress on this path. If you ask me, we start with believing that young people can be the leaders of today.

We'll be keeping you updated with all the news from this year’s Commission on the Status of Women at the UN Headquarters in New York via Katie McSherry both here on the Children North East website and over on Twitter.

Read Katie's New York Diary

Watch Katie's interview with teenagers Maddy and Smrami about their experiences in New York