Youth, GBV & Generation Equality by Shayne Bloomfield-Wong

photo credit: UN Women

There are an estimated 13.3 million Canadians under the age of 30. This accounts for 35% of the total population of the country. In the under 30 age group, 34.7% of those are between the ages of 15 and 24.1 This age group is important when discussing the issue of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), as young women and girls between the ages of 15 and 24 are twice as likely to experience GBV as compared to women and girls in other age categories.2

Both women and men can experience GBV; however, the majority of cases involve women and girls. Over the years, I have noted that in discussions around issues and rights for young people, there is a sort of unwritten agreement within society that the protection of children and youth is of the utmost importance. Those who commit any form of violence or harm to young people are the greatest criminals yet there is still a reluctance to discuss the experiences of youth with GBV. The fact is, young women and girls are particularly vulnerable to GBV3 and we need to talk about it.

First, it is important to understand who exactly is a youth? The age categorization for youth can vary between organizations and governments. The UN defines youth as being between the ages of 15 and 244, and Statistics Canada states they are those between 16 and 28.5 I choose the wider category of youth as being those under the age of 30 as per the definitions from organizations such as the Canadian Council of Young Feminists- Conseil canadien de jeunes féministes.6

Youth are more vulnerable to GBV when they are members of marginalized communities. Indigenous women, women with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, women of colour, and migrants are all groups that are further placed in vulnerable situations and experience higher rates of GBV.7

Canada has experienced a crisis concerning the violence against Indigenous women in the country, which has spanned decades.8 Around 60% of women in Canada with a disability will experience some form of violence in their lifetime.9 The claims and reports of women of colour who have experienced GBV are generally taken less seriously and the punishment their perpetrators face is typically less severe.10 It is long overdue that the issue of GBV be addressed among youth, particularly those within marginalized communities.

If the issue of GBV and young people are to be addressed, youth must be involved in the process. There has been a push in recent years for the proper implementation of treaties and resolutions such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),11 UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 on Women, Peace and Security12 and UNSCR 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security.13 As a result of this advocacy, youth have been increasingly brought to the forefront, particularly when UNSCR 2250 is discussed. The combination of these movements for implementation and action saw the recent introduction of Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights for an Equal Future program.14

Generation Equality was launched in correspondence with the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform from Action. This initiative and others that follow the same ideology believe in the idea of cross-generational cooperation. Within my advocacy work, I have seen the ways in which youth are cast off to the side so the “adults can talk.” Programs such as Generation Equality are meant to recognize that youth also bring something to the table and that they should be incorporated in dialogue.15

It has become clear that youth are not simply the leaders of tomorrow, but they are the leaders of today. The older and newer generations have much to learn from each other and should work together to invoke real and lasting change within society. In the case of GBV, both generations need to work together and share knowledge if there is any real progress to be made in addressing this issue. To achieve sustainable change means to collaborate and target the root causes of the issue.

As a youth, I encourage all people, not just policymakers or those in positions of power, to include youth in dialogue and to listen to what they have to say. Too often, I have seen youth being excluded and overlooked in discussions, meetings, get-togethers, and actions where key issues such as GBV were being discussed. The fact is that youth are more vulnerable to GBV, especially in regards to emerging intersections such as technology. Their opinions and experiences need to be heard and considered for the issue to be truly addressed. After all, how can a problem be addressed if those with a high rate of exposure to it are excluded?

I encourage all people to engage youth in those hard discussions around topics such as GBV. Society has made GBV among youth a sort of taboo topic, unsure of what ages are appropriate to discuss these difficult topics. Fearing to talk about GBV with young people creates another layer of the problem, as youth are often exposed to GBV before being offered the tools to address it. Create safe spaces where young people can be educated about GBV and where youth who have experienced it can safely talk about their experiences. By not talking about it, it eliminates the opportunity to educate the next generation on the problem and consequences of GBV and further stigmatizes youth who have experienced GBV.

Implement and practice the Generation Equality program. This is a chance to ensure the participation and representation of youth at all levels. Particularly, ensure that the voices of youth in marginalized communities are being heard, considered, and respected. By ignoring or considering them as a lesser voice, it only adds to the issue and creates a more vulnerable environment.

The Canadian Government, particularly the newly appointed Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, Bardish Chagger, should engage more actively with youth compared to her predecessor. Although there was the established Prime Minister’s Youth Council, a more active and inclusive effort should be made to engage with all Canadian youth, particularly those of marginalized communities. This is not something that should be exclusive to Minister Chagger. Instead, youth inclusion and advice should be adopted more widely within all levels of government. All ministers must engage with youth to gain a more widespread understanding of their portfolios and how it relates to all Canadians, including those who may be just starting to engage with them.

The international community has only begun to address the issue of underrepresentation of youth. There is much more work that needs to be done both within Canada and the greater international community. How are you ensuring that youth voices, ideas and work are represented in your board rooms, community organizing, programs and policies? Are you inviting in youth? What barriers are you creating, intentionally or not, for them to overcome? How can you improve this access?

Today is the fourth anniversary of the adoption of UNSCR 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security. For the fifth anniversary, I invite you to answer these above questions with more inclusion and removal of barriers for youth participation in your spaces locally, nationally and internationally.

Shayne Bloomfield-Wong is the Vice President of Youth for the Institute for International Women’s Rights – Manitoba. She is currently completing the Joint M.A. Program in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg.

Today, for day 15 of the 16 days we are supporting the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. To donate, click the link above and check out some of their work.

1 Statistics Canada, Population estimates n July 1st, by age and sex, 2019.

2 Status of Women, Population estimates n July 1st, by age and sex, 2019.

3 Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2019. The Facts About Gender-Based Violence.

4 UN, 2013. Definition of Youth.

5 Youth Policy, 2019. Definition of Youth.

6 CCYF-CCJF, 2019. About- À propos.

7 Diverlus, 2018. Pascale Diverlus: Remembering the People we Often Forget on December 6.

8 MMIWG, 2019. Reclaiming Power and Place.

9 Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2019. The Facts About Gender-Based Violence.

10 Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2019. The Facts About Gender-Based Violence.

11 UN, The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

12 UNSC, 2000. Resolution 1325.

13 UNSC, 2015. Resolution 2250.

14 Un Women, 2019. Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights for an Equal Future.

15 UN Women, 2019. Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights for an Equal Future.