Youth Speak Out at the UN by Teruni Walaliyadde

A delegation of 30 people representing the Institute for International Women’s Rights, Manitoba (IIWR-MB) went to New York to the United Nations 63rd session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) in March. (see for more information). A panel of strong young women leaders from Manitoba—Jenny Lay, Ashley Daniels, Jamileh Naso, and Brittany McIntosh—shared their lived experiences at a special event titled ‘Youth Speak Out: Canada’s Social Protections Systems’. Our moderator, Kim Fontaine, guided and facilitated the panel discussion. (see photo of panel being introduced by Teruni Walaliyadde).  These youths spoke on many topics such as missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Indigenous youth leadership, refugees, and intimate partner violence. In addition, a video was presented where 5 other youths raised awareness to the lack of mental health services on reserves, CFS system and aging out, disability and accessibility related issues particularly for those using wheelchairs, language and cultural barriers for newcomers, and exploitation and LGBTQ2S+ challenges that are still ongoing in Winnipeg and Canada. The video was a platform for youths to voice their concerns but who were facing barriers to go to the UN for CSW63 and also a forum to ensure more youth voices were heard at the largest gathering of women advocates and leaders across the world.

As youth, it is challenging to share personal lived experiences with strangers. However, these youths did an excellent job! Although they were emotional at times, the people who came to hear their voices encouraged them by saying “you got this, keep going!”. It is heartwarming and amazing to see strangers encouraging young people and lending them strength and support during moments of intense heart-ache. The moderator also supported the youth panel by guiding the discussion. The young women were supported by their community leaders, some who attended the CSW63 as part of the IIWR-MB delegation.

Protections systems are supposed to be accessible to people and protect them. However, it is obvious that these protection systems are neither accessible nor do they protect all people. On the contrary, they further hinder and abuse those in poverty and circumstances that are beyond their control. The young women shared such challenges and issues within Canada’s social protections systems that are prominent, visible and also those invisible and hidden to some of its citizens as well as the international community. We anticipate that the international community will pressure Canada into making much needed policy changes, especially as it tries again for a Security Council seat. We hope that Canada will take to heart the youth’s recommendations and also those presented by other civil society organizations and make the necessary changes to the various protection systems that are long overdue.

Teruni Walaliyadde

Commission on the Status of Women 63 Lead

Vice President, Diversity

The Institute for International Women’s Rights-Manitoba (IIWR-MB)