So said Sivananthi Thanenthiran, executive director of the Asia-Pacific Women’s Resource and Research Center (ARROW), echoing the famous words of US civil rights leader Robert Williams. She was addressing young changemakers who gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the three-day Asian Youth Festival (September 19-21, 2022) on Innovation and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights .
More than 70 young people from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines, who are working for social change in their communities to improve justice and gender equality, participate at this Youth Festival. Their main focus is sexual and reproductive health and rights. Also at the festival, young leaders work on the impact of climate change on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Yuvraj Lama, 25, visually impaired, runs a community project in Kathmandu, Nepal, serving 45 people with disabilities. He told CNS (Citizen News Service) that awareness of sexual and reproductive health and rights is extremely low and women with disabilities face double marginalization. To address this challenge, Yuvraj designed a social enterprise that trains women to make pickles and gives people with disabilities not only a chance to learn about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, but also to become financially stable.
Here and now – ChangeMakers
ARROW launched its Right Here Right Now Changemakers initiative in 2020. To date, over 150 young leaders from seven countries have been trained. And more than 40 innovative projects have been supported with mentorship, incubation and seed funding to implement social change ideas using design thinking methodology.
According to Sivananthi, the world has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic, and as donor funding for NGOs dwindles, it can be crucial for social initiatives to operate like social enterprises.
“What is the root of social change – an idea of how things can be different. During the pandemic, societies have transformed. We are reimagining the ways people can participate.”
Dash Dhakshinamoorthy, mentor and co-creator of the Youth Changemakers program, was thrilled to see the changemakers in person. “Most young people should be part of the change – creating an impact and making the world a better place to live in. As elders, we can just help and facilitate that,” he says.
Joshua Dilawar, 28, runs the Artivism Academy in Pakistan which uses art as a medium for social change. A theater practitioner himself, the social enterprise he has developed uses theatre, film, music and painting to create a safe and inclusive space for young people to dialogue about sexual and reproductive health and rights. and breaking stereotypes and busting myths. Maternal mortality is a huge challenge in Pakistan. The number of young people engaged in politics is extremely low, even though 70% of Pakistan’s population is under 30 years old. This initiative aims to address all these challenges, he shares. For him, diversity and inclusion are of the utmost importance, as is the inclusion of religious and sexual minorities, as well as people with physical disabilities.
Danica Marie Supnet, 30, works with the Manila-based Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) on climate governance in some of the most vulnerable communities in the Philippines. A beneficiary of ARROW’s WORTH initiative which works on climate change and gender justice, its project in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province, encourages men, women and youth to engage in developing climate change policies. He advocates with local development planners to integrate gender and development into climate action.
Danica explains the vulnerability of climate change in the Philippines, an archipelago with many small island communities. Climate change has an impact on many sectors, such as agriculture and fisheries.
“At the local government level, we have a climate change policy action plan and gender and development planning. These policies are implemented in silos at the local level. Our goal is to support local governments to be climate, SRHR and gender responsive,” she says.
Danica adds that typically when it comes to climate change, we look at direct changes like sea level rise. But for many small island communities, that means they have to rely on the water from the mainland to ensure drinking water for domestic use. This led to a shortage of water in the houses. Climate change has a domino effect. While sea level rise is a direct impact, its indirect impacts relate to daily activities – not just sanitation but also nutrition.
Danica’s project actively engages youth and promotes community engagement so that solutions are acceptable and understandable to the community while touching their lived reality. Currently, the project is reaching approximately 20 local government officials and 100 people from the community.
The festival aims to foster learning and sharing between countries at the regional level. Welcoming the participants to the festival, Sai Jyothirmai Racerla, Deputy Executive Director of ARROW, commended them for their commitment to gender equality and sustainable development. “You have been very brave during the pandemic. You have executed ideas for social change. We are here to celebrate your accomplishments and learn from each other. You have traveled far, for many this may be the first opportunity to travel outside your country,” she added.
Participants also had the chance to visit The Dignity Foundation, a Kuala Lumpur-based social enterprise that focuses on educating poor urban children, especially refugees. Currently, it provides quality education to 1,800 children between the ages of 3 and 19. In order to support herself, she runs various initiatives, such as a cafe, a sewing initiative run by Burmese women, an arts initiative for children, among others. “The Dignity Foundation demonstrates how changemakers can do much more with much less and see every challenge as an opportunity,” Dash said.
Safe Abortion Day: September 28
ARROW’s work with young people has focused on addressing a variety of challenges that stand in the way of achieving the full range of SRHR, including the lack of comprehensive sex education and the right to safe abortion. Considering SRHR primarily within the context of marriage poses limitations, while trafficking and sexual exploitation, as well as early and forced marriages, continue to be pressing issues. Harnessing and honing the energetic talents of young people can bring us closer to solving these problems, as these young changemakers have shown.
(Sumita Thapar is a CNS Special Correspondent and writes from Malaysia where she is at the 2022 Asian Youth Festival on Innovation for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. She is a renowned journalist and development communication expert Follow her on Twitter: @SumitaT or read: www.bit.ly/SumitaThapar )