Harnessing the Power of Young Women
On October 11, 2013 I got to celebrate the International Day of the Girl at the United Nations. I started my day off meeting with other youth delegates to the United Nations from around the world. It was a nice surprise to know that regardless of gender, first language learned, or ambitions for the future, we all had a passion for human rights activism on behalf of women in some capacity, whether it is public health or anti-trafficking campaigns.
One of the most memorable experiences of the day was hearing from Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive-Director of UN-Women. She made it clear that when the power of women is not fully harnessed, it hurts everyone — not only women. In particular, Mlambo-Ngcuka, spoke about the need to get more young women involved in opportunities to innovate and start businesses. I couldn’t agree more!
I want to live in a world where the next youngest and most innovative leaders and/or CEOs are female. Certainly, that opportunity exists today more than it has in any time in our history. As a young girl, I often heard stories about how hard it was for my grandmother growing up in a time where both women and people of color did not have basic human rights. However, in my generation there have been many changes. I now am able to pursue an education and professional goals that were unavailable to my grandmother.
Certainly, we live in a time when youth are driving some of the greatest change of our age, and our next step is to see more young women at the forefront of that! Benjamin Disraeli, one of Britain’s most acclaimed prime ministers, once said that, “Almost everything that is great has been done by youth.” Indeed, Steve Jobs was 21 when he founded Apple Computers in 1976. The average age of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project was 25; Einstein introduced his famous theory of relativity at the age of 26; and Frank Wittle invented the jet engine at the age of 23. More recently, Shawn Fanning, at the age of 18, revolutionized the music industry when he invented Napster, and Mark Zuckerberg, at the age of 24, became the world’s youngest billionaire setting up Facebook in his college dorm room.
Clearly, youth are drivers of change — but it’s time to see more women in this list of movers and shakers. Yet women worldwide are still struggling to gain the types of opportunities that will allow them to contribute to the innovation of their nations like their young male counterparts. How many innovators and innovations are we missing out on because women are not afforded the opportunity to lead?
We need the work of groups like UN women to help change this paradigm. I was reminded at the “Girls Speak Out” event that in most countries, young women are living lives without basic human rights much like their grandmothers lived. That’s why the most exciting thing about my day was hearing about all the things that people are doing in the world to help empower women. For example, one young lady started a non-profit in Ghana to help pay for transportation costs for young ladies to attend school.
Meeting with other young leaders throughout the world gave me hope that in my lifetime, we will see all people have basic human rights and dignity and respect. I am excited for what the future holds.
Tiffany Taylor, 2013-2014 U.S. Youth Observer at the UN