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All Young People Need to be Engaged in Creating Gender Equality

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"Why do we need to work on gender equality - surely we've already got that in the UK?"

On the contrary - gender inequalities are still widespread throughout the UK. A Fawcett Society study shows that an average woman in the UK will earn 15.5% less than her male counterpart.

"Why should I earn less just because I am a woman?"

A shocking 30% of women have been subjected to physical abuse from partners or ex-partners in the UK (UNIFEM, 2010) - that's almost one in three of your female friends. Everybody should have the right to live a life free from violence.

Gender inequalities are far greater in other countries around the world, but that doesn't mean we can't still make further progress towards true gender equality here in the UK.

"Why do men and boys need to be involved in creating gender equality - isn't it a women's issue?"

If we want to create a world free from gender inequalities, that world includes men and boys as well as women and girls. A report by Plan International highlighted that "it has become increasingly clear that unless young men and boys work alongside girls and young women to challenge unequal power relationships, equal rights for women and men will remain a distant dream".

For gender equality to become a reality there needs to be respect for diversity - we need to acknowledge everybody as individuals with equal rights, and abandon stereotypes of what it means to be a 'real man' or 'real woman'. Stereotypes of masculinity can have just a damaging effect on boys and men realising their potential as those of girls and women.

This is true for opening up opportunities in education and work, but also for tackling the problem of violence against women and girls. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) want to engage people of all ages and both genders with its 'Stop the Violence' campaign to end violence against girls. Programmes to build girls' self-esteem, give them the ability to be economically independent and help them understand the issues that underpin violence all need to be accompanied by conversations with boys which will help to deconstruct the stereotypes that imply violence is part of being a 'real man'.

"What's being discussed at the 56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women on this issue?"

At this event there has been progress on engaging young women through strong and visible young women delegations (such as the one I am part of through the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) who speak out at the UN sessions and side events. There is also an emphasis on the benefits of intergenerational dialogue as well as a group of engaged young men who I met at the Youth Orientation event.

However, the dominance of older women as speakers and representatives is all too prevalent. Many of whom think they can speak on behalf of girls and young women because they "have many years of experience". The experience of being a girl or young woman in the modern world is uniquely held by these people themselves - they need more space to represent themselves.

"How can young people drive positive change towards gender equality?"

Young women and young men have so many opportunities to drive positive change so that we might realise gender equality.

Being a role model for your peers is one of the most important steps you can take. Small actions, undertaken every day, to redefine the expectations of how we act towards each other will break down those destructive stereotypes. Peers are some of the most visible role models we have, and so you have the responsibility to be a positive one for your peers.

You must get political. If you can vote, do! Join any councils, forums or organisations that will help you get your voice heard. All of us must claim the space to have our voices heard on the issues we are passionate about.

Social media and other new technologies have a tremendous potential for advocacy and raising awareness, and we all must utilise these for positive means. In that light, you can start these changes by sharing or tweeting this article to your friends.

"Why is it my responsibility to take action?"

As Ghandi once famously said, you must "be the change you want to see in the world". It is your responsibility to take action on this issue, the responsibility of each and every one of us, because the people currently affected by gender inequality are your family - your sisters, your brothers, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons.

You have the ability and the opportunity to be the change that means the next generation will have equality in their lives.