by Sumita Thapar – CNS | Sept 20, 2022| Published by CNS | READ THE STORY HERE

So said Sivananthi Thanenthiran, Executive Director of The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), echoing the famous words of American civil rights leader Robert Williams. She was speaking to the youth changemakers who gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the three-day long Asia Youth Festival (19-21 September 2022) on innovation and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Over 70 young people from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and Philippines, who are working for social change in their communities to improve gender justice and gender equality, are participating in this Youth Festival. Their main focus is on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Also at the festival are youth leaders working on the impact of climate change on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Yuvraj Lama, 25, who lives with visual disability, runs a community project in Kathmandu, Nepal, serving 45 people with disability. He told CNS (Citizen News Service) that awareness on sexual and reproductive health and rights is extremely low, and women with disabilities face double marginalisation. To address this challenge Yuvraj has designed a social enterprise that trains women in pickle-making and gives those with disabilities not only a chance to know about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, but also to become financially stable.

Right Here Right Now – ChangeMakers

ARROW launched its Right Here Right Now Changemakers initiative in 2020. Till to-date, more than 150 youth leaders from seven countries have been trained. And over 40 innovative projects have been supported through mentorships, incubation, and seed funding for implementing social change ideas using a design thinking methodology.

According to Sivananthi, the world has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic, and as donor funding for NGOs shrinks, it may be crucial for social initiatives to run like social enterprises.

“What is the root of social change – an idea of how things can be different. During the pandemic societies have transformed. We are reimagining ways in which people can participate.”

Dash Dhakshinamoorthy, mentor and co-creator of the Youth Changemakers programme, was delighted to see the changemakers in-person. “Most young people should participate in changemaking – creating impact and making the world a better place to live in. We as elders can just help and facilitate this,” he says.

Joshua Dilawar, 28, runs the Artivism Academy in Pakistan that uses Art as a medium for social change. A theatre practitioner himself, the social enterprise he developed uses theatre, filmmaking, music, and painting to create a safe and inclusive space for young people for dialogues on sexual and reproductive health and rights and break stereotypes and bust myths. Maternal mortality is a huge challenge in Pakistan. Young people engaging in policy is extremely low, even though 70% of Pakistan’s population is under 30. This initiative aims to address all these challenges, he shares. For him, diversity and inclusion are of utmost importance, like inclusion of religious and sexual minorities, as well as persons with disabilities.

Danica Marie Supnet, 30, works with the Manila-based Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) on climate governance in some of the most vulnerable communities in the Philippines. A grantee of ARROW’s WORTH initiative that works on climate change and gender justice, her project in Guiuan, in the Eastern Samar province, encourages men, women and youth to engage in policy making on climate change. It advocates with local development planners in order to mainstream gender and development into climate action.

Danica explains the vulnerability of climate change in Philippines, an archipelago with many small island communities. Climate change is impacting many sectors, such as agriculture and fisheries.

“At the local government level we have a climate change policy action plan and gender and development planning. These policies are implemented in silos at the local level. Our aim is to help local governments be responsive to climate, sexual and reproductive heath and rights, and gender,” she says.

Danica adds that usually when it comes to climate change we are looking at direct change such as sea level rise. But for many small island communities this means that they must rely on water from the mainland to ensure potable water for household use. This has led to water shortage in homes. Climate change has a domino effect. While sea level rise is a direct impact, its indirect impacts is on daily activities – not just sanitation but also nutrition.

Danica’s project actively engages youth and promotes community engagement so that solutions are acceptable and understandable to the community while also touching their lived reality. At present the project is reaching out to about 20 representatives from local government and 100 people from the community.

The festival aims to foster learning and sharing between countries at the regional level. Welcoming the participants to the festival, Sai Jyothirmai Racherla, Deputy Executive Director, ARROW, congratulated them for their commitment to gender equality and sustainable development. “You have been very brave through the pandemic. You have executed ideas for social change. We are here to celebrate your achievements and learn from each other. You have travelled from far off places, for many perhaps this is the first opportunity to travel outside your country,” she added.

Participants also got a chance to visit The Dignity Foundation, a Kuala Lumpur based social enterprise that focuses on the education of urban poor children, especially refugees. At present it is imparting quality education to 1800 children age 3-19 years. In order to sustain itself, it runs various initiatives, such as a cafe, a sewing initiative led by Burmese women, an art initiative for children, among others. “The Dignity Foundation demonstrates how changemakers can do a lot more with a lot less, and take every challenge as an opportunity,” said Dash.

Safe Abortion Day: 28 September

ARROW’s work with young people has focused on addressing various challenges that beset the realisation of the full gamut of sexual and reproductive health and rights, including lack of comprehensive sexuality education and right to safe abortion. Looking at sexual and reproductive health and rights mainly within the framework of marriage poses limitations, while trafficking and sexual exploitation, as well as early and forced marriages, continue to be pressing problems. Tapping and honing the energetic talents of the youth can take us closer to addressing these issues, as shown by these young changemakers.

Photo by Pats Oliva/ HCWH