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Youth Perspectives

Youth Perspective: A global advocate for youth and gender equality

We are pleased to present an interview of Mr. Ravi Karkara, Adviser for Strategic Partnerships to Assistant Secretary-General, UN-Women and Global Expert Advisor on Children and Youth with UN-HABITAT.  This interview was conducted by a regular contributor to Youth Perspectives, Mr. Saket Mani, Global Youth Advocate for the My World 2015 UN Global Citizen’s Survey & World We Want 2015.

Saket: What does your work focus on and what is your role within the UN?

Mr. Karkara: I work with UN-HABITAT as global advisor on youth and with the UN Millennium Campaign, as global strategic advisor on partnerships in the post-2015 development agenda. I am also providing support to Deputy Executive Director of UN Women on Beijing+20 especially looking at high value partnerships and resource mobilizations for the organization.

Saket: Could you tell me about some of the projects UN/you have implemented over the years?

Mr. Karkara: One of pioneering works of UN-HABITAT that I worked on is Youth-21, which is promoting youth engagement in UN institutions.  I am also the focal person on youth in the Post 2015 development agenda in the UN system and co-chairing a Policy & Strategy team on the World We Want 2015. This data-curating, mining and visualization portal is done under the flagship People’s Voices Series. I am also leading advising on youth participation in the UN’s My World 2015 survey which includes over 3.7 million youth voices.

Finally, I am working on Beijing+20 that is 20 year celebration of the 4th World Conference on Women which took place in Beijing (1995), a watershed moment in advocating for women’s empowerment, women’s rights and gender equality.

Saket: Since the urge to involve more women in climate talks has been identified in 1992 within the Beijing Platform for Action, what has changed since then?

Mr. Karkara: With the climate change, issues that directly affect women such as issues of drinking water, sanitation, energy crisis cannot be ignored. As the climate change negotiations are underway in Lima (2014) and then Paris (2015), women’s position in climate change cannot be neglected as they bear the brunt of drastic effects of climate change. A definitive example will be women and girls in rural areas who have to travel miles and miles in search of fresh drinking water. Girls have to drop out of schools so that they can support their mothers. As the water dries up or becomes polluted, they have to travel farther to search for clean drinking water. In fact, an analysis of 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa revealed that 71 per cent of the water collectors in the region are women and girls, and in just one day women collectively spend an estimated 16 million hours fetching water (men, 6 million in comparison). Women who use traditional sources of cooking such as firewood suffer severely due to the black carbon that is released. Women who work in fields or look after the cattle bear tremendous pressure to feed their families.

The policy makers must harmonize Beijing +20, Post-2015 Development Agenda, Habitat-III and Climate Change negotiations in order to support and promote women’s role in climate-related activities thus leading to women’s empowerment. The Beijing+20’s 18-month campaign comprises of substantive and important opportunities for magnifying the gender equality discussion and at the same time amplifying the issues and the aps that pertain to the entire process particularly the role of men and boys that needs to be stepped up. Women are progressing and governments are increasingly seeking out their expertise and leadership when making key environmental decisions. Still, much remains to be done to support women’s roles in decision-making and secure a better future for all.

Saket: Why is gender equality crucial for Post-2015 Development Agenda?

Mr. Karkara:  Gender equality is extremely important in the advancement of Post 2015 development agenda because it is cross cutting all 17 goals in the SDGs. So if we look at it from the dimensions of peace & security, women’s rights must be safeguarded and protected. If we look from education perspective, then more women should be able to attend universities, more young girls should be able to finish secondary education and supported in STEM education and skills development. The traditional education system isn’t building skills and widening the skill-deficit gap.

The goal number 5 in the SDG’s outcome document must be further strengthened by member states. It must be strongly supported by women activists across the world and really needs to be backed by equal finance – women’s issues must be a priority of global aid architecture. We have seen that there have been political commitments made before; documents have been made for women’s agenda but the alarm bells ring when these issues aren’t financed. The financing of gender equality in Post 2015 development agenda will be the test of international community, the Official development assistance (ODA) and the emerging donors to see that women & girls is being prioritized at local, sub-national, national, regional and global level budgetary and financial mechanisms.

Saket: What are the impediments for achieving gender equality?

Mr. Karkara:  When I was in Rajasthan (India), the lady Sarpanch (elected head of a village level statutory institution of local self-government) told me, “Ravi you are doing good job on gender sensitization with the women in my village but why aren’t you working with the men who are sitting there”. I never understood what she meant but a week later, I realised exactly what she meant. She brought in the question of changing the patriarchal system and hegemonies of masculinities. Boys and men must became partners and be accountability to gender equality. Gender equality played a very crucial role in global conversation which resulted in the creation of UN Women but at the same time the issues of gender based violence, economic disparity, wage discrimination, lack of opportunities for adolescent women in education and health issues of women is still hugely challenged. Women and girls still can’t exercise their freedoms and choices, such as to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions and to earn equal pay for equal work. Girls are taught not to raise their voice when they are growing up. This needs to stop and girls must be allowed to express themselves. Their participation is fundamental to democratic governance. The Inter-Parliamentary Union has found that women politicians give more attention to social welfare and legal protections, and improve trust.

Saket: What are the opportunities that can accelerate the progress on gender equality and women empowerment?

Mr. Karkara:  Specific initiatives must be developed to promote and nurture young women entrepreneurs so that they not only create jobs but also employ other women and men as well in their communities. Cultural influences and media play an utmost important role in gender sensitization. Traditional practices such as early marriage, female feticide & infanticide, FM must be totally eliminated like the way India as eliminated polio. Cultural practices where women and girls are celebrated as heroes must be highlighted. The international community must be held accountable by girls and women. It has as to be a collective and unified effort with multi-stakeholder approach

On how to address gender inequality, we need to reach the roots of this problem. We need to look at the human rights based approach, address the patriarchal system, at the hegemony forms of masculinity and work with men & boys so that they have a clear shift in their attitude towards viewing women and girls as actors and right holders rather than objects of gratification or commodities. At the policy level, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action must be implemented and used as guidance to reform. More importance has to be given to young women because we are going through a youth bulge and 50% of youth bulge are young women. The 20th anniversary of Beijing opens new opportunities to reconnect, regenerate commitment, charge up political will and mobilize the public. The World Programme on Youth Development celebrates 20 years next year and one goal that is often forgotten is goal on girls and young women – its time we step up and deliver with girls and young women.

Saket: What is the role of boys and young men in becoming partners in gender equality?

Mr. Karkara:  In the Beijing +20, we are also looking at how youth engagement can be strengthened and how young men & women can be a part of gender equality discussion. For example, the UN Women’s HeForShe Campaign, which is a unique campaign launched on 20th September by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson calling for revival of feminism and urging men & young boys to really step up their responsibility & accountability on advancing gender equality. UN Women’s Executive Director calls for an expiry on gender inequality and asking for Year 2030 to be declared as a world that will step up and deliver a purely gender equitable world.

From my perspective, having worked for 20 years on gender equality, it’s more about changing perceptions and attitudes from a lifecycle perspective. According to me all boys who are in primary or high school must be empowered through value based training on gender equality and inclusion. Their curriculum must clearly identify men/boys and especially women/girls (e.g. Malala) as role models in societal development. Boys and young men must be educated in such a way that they understand that violating any rights of the women and girls is unacceptable and this needs to be done without patronizing women and girls but by recognizing them as rights holders.


 Ravi Karkara (Twitter: @ravikarkara)

About Saket:

Twitter: @SaketMANI |

Saket Mani is the Children & Youth Representative to UN. He has been appointed as Global Youth Advocate for the My World 2015 UN Global Citizen’s Survey & World We Want 2015. He’s a member of the UNICEF Global Youth Council on Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities and a Global Youth Ambassador for A World at School to promote universal education. As an Ambassador for Young Men 4 Gender Equality, he’s using technology to raise awareness about gender equality and gender-based violence by engaging adults, men and boys in prevention. He has been promoting a unified framework for sustainable development & accountability as an international priority during his discussion with heads of governments, diplomats, UN officials, private sector & CSOs. He concentrates on facilitating strong partnerships with UN entities, private sector & civil society to engage global youth in the development discourse.

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