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Makda Tessema

The youth have  great potential to advance gender equality in Africa, given the fact that they are not overburdened by gender stereotypes and patriarchy. The greatest value of enlightenment and education of young men and women to promote gender equality is to create a new generation of gender activists that can shift minds and hearts to redress historical and present injustices against women.

Despite marked progress in gender relations globally, gender disparity and power struggles that leave women and girls at a disadvantage remain. Women continue to face multiple layers of discrimination economically, politically and socially. Although the glass ceiling is thinning, women are still finding it hard to break into leadership positions. [i] These difficulty for women to effectively participate perpetuates itself at all levels: home front, workplace and wider society. Women are increasingly overburdened with piling responsibilities at the workplace and household. To exacerbate the situation, gender-based violence in many spheres is prominent and uncanny.

The gender movement has limited narratives of young people’s engagement – there are less and less new faces and voices among the youth to take the agenda foreword. As the gender movement gains new strides and breaks new grounds, the engagement of youth is pivotal to the journey and will indeed result in sustainability of the gains chronicled so far. Youth [ii] in Africa are one of the biggest demographics – grossing about 70% [iii of the entire population of the continent, with significant implications on the economy, politics, peace, social and cultural life. But it will also have meaningful and positive contributions to gender equality.

The role of young people in advancing gender equality cannot be overstated. The youth - as part of and being the biggest beneficiaries of gender equality - should be at the forefront of advancing and promoting equality. Young men and women have the zeal to break stereotypes, discriminatory practices and power struggles that manifest as gender inequality practices. Youth have the capacity to challenge stereotypes and patriarchy and come up with innovative solutions to stop age-old systems and practices hindering gender equality. The “youth bulge” needs to be harnessed for gender equality and a new generation of young men and women empowered to advance gender equality.

This contribution explores the role of youth in advancing gender equality in Africa. It argues that young men and women have the greatest potential to advance and promote gender equality, given the fact that they are not over burdened by gender stereotypes and patriarchy. It further suggests that the greatest value of enlightenment and education of young men and women to promote gender equality will create a new generation of gender equality activists that can shift minds, hearts and attitudes that can redress historical injustices to women and become gender conscious citizens. The paper begins by tracing the relationship between gender and youth in Africa. It then concludes with suggestions on practical ways on how to harness the youth demographic to enhance gender equality.

Gender and youth movements in Africa

International legal norms define the scope and parameters within which gender equality is addressed globally. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) [iv] calls on countries who have ratified the convention to promote gender equality and eliminate any form of discrimination against women and girls.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [v], the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1325 [vi] can be highlighted as imperative to addressing gender equality globally in development, peace and security. [vii]

Regionally, one of the most comprehensive legal instruments on women is the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa popularly known as the Maputo Protocol. [viii] It is a forward-looking instrument for the promotion and protection of women and girls’ rights in Africa. African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063, [ix]the vision board of Africa, puts gender equality high on its priority list. The Solemn Declaration of Gender Equality in Africa [x] as well as the AU Gender Policy  are significant in exhausting the definition the scope of gender equality in Africa.

All these instruments - global, regional and national - have significantly contributed to the advancement of gender equality in Africa among the African Union (AU) Member States. However, notwithstanding the lofty legal instruments and policies on gender equality, the reality paints a rather grim picture. While undoubtedly significant progress has been made towards gender equality, there is increased regression in several African countries and gaps that call for a paradigm shift. One of the important lessons learned is the need to realize the importance of having young people engaged in gender equality campaigns.

Inquiring why youth are the best possible agents for promoting gender equality in Africa and why youth themselves need to recognize the importance of gender equality are perhaps the most important questions to address. Youth have the potential to bring the gender movement to the next level – they can redress historical injustices faced by women. They are vocal; they are outspoken on issues that affect them and others. As part of the society, stereotypes and patriarchy can weigh down on youth as well - but they are always ahead of the curve and can challenge the norms, break stereotypes, and patriarchal attitudes by turning the narrative on its head. More importantly, they can practice what they preach and can start the work from themselves.

Young people need to understand that gender inequality as much as it is deliberate is also unconscious – it manifests from an existent power struggle, it seeps into every aspect of life like policies, guidelines, budgets, resources through organizational culture and human behaviour. Gender equality neither stops in the office nor remains in the household, it goes into every aspect of our lives.[i] [xii] Reasonably, it is in youth’s best interest to spearhead gender equality because whatever achievement attained without gender equality will be frivolous, and gender equality will actually result in a dramatically different and better life experience for themselves, families and communities.

Creating the link now and beyond

As the largest demography in Africa, the youth should be involved in any conversation or initiatives about addressing gender inequality. In creating the link between gender and youth, various considerations should be taken. Youth are a very heterogeneous group, religion, languages their access and skills differ – not all youth are technologically savvy or have access to it, for that matter. A great majority of African youth reside in the rural areas and have significantly different needs than the urban youth.  They are diverse in age, sex, culture, language, religion, education, disability and much more. These social and cultural diversifications create layers of classification that create distinctions on how to work with youth.

Second, the category “youth” is approached from a masculine perspective; youth are generally almost synonymously equated with male youth. Youth have the same lingering misconceptions about gender – often misunderstanding it to be a “women’s thing”. Youth engagement from a gender-neutral perspective of course is indispensable to accomplishing the next significant milestones in the gender equality movement.

Youth are the “sirens” of our nations – they are increasingly putting their feet down and taking the initiative to signal issues of concern in most African countries. They make their voices heard though flagging critical deficits and create movements that turned into revolutions – from Tunisia to Burkina Faso to Cameroon, Burundi, South Africa and Ethiopia. [xiii]

The gender equality struggle can benefit from their being a breath of fresh ideas. Gender equality is either fatigued or misunderstood among many – including development professionals and civil servants. The issue of gender quality can be revitalized by engaging with youth and make its way to everyday lives of people.

How to get youth on board

The overriding question this piece attempts to illuminate is how to get youth on board and get them interested in gender equality in Africa. As much as young women and girls need to be included in the youth engagement movement, there needs to be a paradigm shift in thinking and strategizing towards making gender equality movement and initiatives inclusive and youth friendly.

First, incentivise youth and create that sense of ownership in them by making gender equality personal, practical and day to day. [xiv] Build the capacity of youth on gender equality and its importance, build programs, craft opportunities and create leadership positions to be occupied led by young men and women.

Second, prioritize men/boys engagement. Considerable strides have been made on the subject, but it is still lacking. A generation of men that does not need any convincing on the importance gender equality and empowerment need to be promoted. Third, build on initiates that promote youth for gender equality. The 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – the single-largest intergovernmental gathering on women conducted a youth pre-forum for the first time. It was dubbed as a defining moment when women and youth make an alliance with the potential to change the world. [xvi] The AU’s African Governance Architecture (AGA)’s Regional Youth Dialogues on Governance, Democracy and Human Rights and the subsequent Youth pre-forums on the High-Level Dialogue on Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights can also be mentioned as a continental best practice. [xvii]

Fourth, share experiences. The gender equality movement has plenty to learn from the youth movement and vice versa. Becoming partners in the development process of a nation and region could potentially bring considerable changes.

It is, therefore, an opportune moment to highlight the potential of youth to re-energize the gender equality movement and create a new generation activists that can shift minds, hearts and attitudes of our continent.


[1] Dina Medland, Today's Gender Reality In Statistics, Or Making Leadership Attractive To Women,, last modified December 16, 2016,

[2] Several definitions of Youth Exist. For the purpose of this contribution the definition by the African Union Youth Charter (2006) which defines youth as in between 15-35 years of age is used, accessed December 27,2016,  

[3] The Power of 1.8 Billion, Adolescent, Youth and the transformation for the future, accessed Dec 26, 2016,

[4] Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), accessed December 21, 2016,

[5] Sustainable Development Goals, accessed December 20, 2016,

[6] United Nations Security Council Resolution(UNSC) 1325, accessed December 15, 2016,

[6] From the Youth perspective, UNSC Resolution 2250 can be mentioned as an instrument that took consideration the gendered perspective on youth and peacebuilding, accessed December 27,2016,

[7] Protocol to The African Charter on Human And Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women In Africa /Maputo protocol/, accessed Dec 14, 2016,

[8] Agenda 2063, accessed December, 27,2016,

[9] Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality In Africa, accessed December 16, 2016,

[10] AU Gender Policy, accessed December 16, 2106, 

[11] Awramba- a secluded and egalitarian and most gender equal society exists in Ethiopia. Gender Equality gets a new definition in Awramba- it becomes a day to day thing where you will find Men and Women are equal. Accessed Dec 23, 2016,

[12] As a case in point, the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Fees Must fall, and other social movements that have catapulted to continental campaigns can be mentioned.

[13] Case in point, Sweden’s Experiment on gender responsive, snow plowing which allows city municipalities to pay attention to small roads, bike lanes along with the main road when clearing roads off. Women and Children mainly use the neighborhood roads and giving access to them was equality deemed essential as the main roads. 

[14] Convention on the Status of Women(CSW)60, accessed December 13, 12, 2016,

[15] Youth leaders call for “big leap” for gender equality at first CSW Youth Forum, accessed December 16, 2016,

[16] African Union’s High-Level Dialogue and Youth Pre forums, accessed December 17,2016,



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