The #Hashtag and #Selfie Generation at CSW59

On Saturday, 7 March, a day before International Women’s Day, a group of young women under the age of 30 woke up early in the morning, braved the New York City winter cold and met at the Armenian Center for the first ever Young Women and Girls Forum at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) organized by the World YWCA and sponsored by UN Women, Packard Foundation, Christian Aid, NORAD, DFAT, Bread for the World, and WAGGGS. What motivated these young women to spend their Saturday in a conference room instead of exploring New York City? Their commitment to women rights, gender equality, and justice.

Most of the young women and girls in the room had either not been born or were too young to remember  when the world met in Beijing in 1995 to draft the Beijing Declaration and Plan of Action, yet their lives have been shaped by the ideas that this historic document set forth, and will continue to be shaped by the world’s failure to make those promises a reality. With this in mind, the agenda of the day focused on young women being the leaders of today, not the leaders of tomorrow. Speakers and panelists urged all young women to find the spaces available to make their voices heard and, if these spaces were not available, to claim them and make them available.

What exactly are these “spaces” that young women and girls have used to promote change and to make their voices heard? They are the conversations started when young women and girls use hashtags to say #NotOkay to gender violence, when they take selfies to challenge beauty standards, when they use Facebook and Twitter to demand action from their political leaders, and when  they post on Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat stories that otherwise would go untold. Young women and girls have been working hard to change the world using social media to redefine the conversation without having to ask anyone for permission to be part of it.

These young women are part the millennial generation, the selfie generation, the hashtag generation, the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/YouTube/Snapchat generation, or all of the above. And even though these labels have often been used in a negative light, this generation has used these powerful tools for which they are often criticized to promote change. Knowing that these young women leaders will be spending the next two weeks at CSW, making their voices heard and telling world leaders that the time has come to make gender equality a reality gives me hope that 2030 could be the final milestone in the fight for women’s rights.