Youth are Dedicated to Changing the World. Are you?

By Maria Holsopple
August 7, 2019

August 12 is International Youth Day. This is a day, set aside by the United Nations, to celebrate the role of young men and women in creating change and raising awareness about the challenges facing youth around the globe. This past year, I was able to work with young people across the U.S. on solutions to gender equality, and this work became one of the highlights of my year as a Plan International USA employee. 

In September 2018, Plan released the results of a survey of youth ages 10-19 on their thoughts about gender equality and what shapes these views. The results were sobering – Gen Z is not leading the charge against inequalities in the manner that I was expecting. Taking a deeper dive into the results showed that the views of young people are shaped by the social cues they receive from the adults around them, which were shaped by past generations. This creates a surprisingly conservative and durable view on equality, one that emphasizes traditional gender roles. 

The saying goes that actions speak louder than words, and when it comes to gender equality, this is true. Until adults are willing to change their actions, not just words, generations of youth will consciously and subconsciously repeat inequalities. 

But, there are ways to avoid this outcome! 

Plan took the survey results on the road this past year, hosting a series of youth gatherings in cities around the U.S. to engage young people in a conversation about solutions and actions that could be taken to further equality. The brainstorms and ideas put forth by participants serve as a challenge to both adults and young people. Below are a few ways that you can change gender inequalities in the U.S. through actions. 

Parents

  • Display equality in how you talk, act, split chores, and make decisions
  • Apply rewards and discipline equally
  • Have equal expectations

Teachers/Schools

  • Avoid assigning gendered tasks (i.e – “I need a strong boy to move this box” or “I need a girl with nice handwriting”)
  • Talk to boys and girls equally about #MeToo, as well as sexual and reproductive health
  • Explore school policies to ensure they are equitable
  • Apply resources equally to sports teams

Media

  • Positively display all genders with the full range of emotions
  • Portray realistic body types
  • Value intelligence, actions, and bodies equally
  • Avoid stereotypical gendered language and color usage
  • Include more diverse voices and viewpoints

Policy and Law Makers

  • Allow for more youth participation in the creation of new policies
  • Have a youth debate for the 2020 election
  • Develop more economic empowerment opportunities for women

Youth 

  • Boycott brands that do not portray equality
  • Be conscious of what you share on social media- calling out inequality and not sharing ads or content with gender stereotypes while supporting those with positive messages
  • Email or write to companies who do not portray equality to point out areas to improve
  • Ask celebrities to share messages of equality through their social media and work (statements, scripts/roles, lyrics, etc.)

By changing your actions and challenging traditional gender roles, you can help create a more gender equitable world for this generation and the next.