From Consultation to Co-design

Young people leading gender-transformative education in emergencies

Maria Nguyen and Eunice Lynda Nakaibale represent the SDG4Youth Network.

Education systems have been shocked by the 3Cs- COVID-19, climate change, and conflict. And marginalized girls are bearing the brunt of it.

Due to the fragility of our education systems, we have been reactive, instead of proactive, to these shocks. If we are to transform education, we need more than knee-jerk responses to crises. We need to delve deep into the root causes of why we are living in the 21st century, yet education systems still reek of inequities. We need to critique stereotypes and attitudes, to rethink what we accept as norms, to challenge power relations.

Gender-transformative education provides a starting point for challenging these root causes.

According to new data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), it is estimated that 263 million children and youth globally are out of learning. Out-of-school girls, particularly those who face intersecting layers of discrimination due to refugee status, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic upbringing, among many other factors, are disproportionately affected. Many are susceptible to gender-based violence, early marriage, teenage pregnancies and human trafficking, which puts their physical, mental and social health at risk.

This is why we need urgent action from all stakeholders in education- including young people- to mitigate further learning loss and build inclusive, equitable, safe and resilient education systems that can adapt to and withstand future shocks. So what role do young people have in leading gender-transformative education in emergencies?

Many young people are passionate about transforming education. We are able to share a plethora of lived experiences from current education system models, and provide insight into their current strengths and downfalls. We are trailblazing peer education programs as relatable and approachable role models.

Despite this, we are rarely meaningfully engaged in co-designing solutions for education which impact our health and education, and that of our peers. Too often, young people are invited to consultations far too late- if at all- by people in positions of power. We find that those people often come to us seeking to validate their top-down solutions, instead of attentively listening to youth perspectives. We are applauded at conferences for our inspirational speeches and heartfelt cries, but often given little opportunity to engage in follow-up actions. To truly achieve gender-transformative education in emergencies, so no one is left behind, young people must be more than a ‘stakeholder checkbox’ that needs to be ticked off out of politeness. Our input is crucial to the success of transforming education. 

The Youth Declaration of the Transforming Education Summit includes a list of demands from young people. To realize this Youth Declaration and achieve gender-transformative education in emergencies, we call on leaders to:

  1. Work with young people in co-designing and creating solutions to implement gender-transformative education at the grassroots, national and international levels, as well as in monitoring and evaluation processes. This includes working with young people to co-design the global flagship initiatives emerging from the Summit.

Many young people recognise that the change starts with us. The following are three members of the SDG4Youth Network who have come forward to share how they are already leading gender-transformative education in emergencies and crises in their communities.

Yasmein Abdelghany details about her work with Restless Development: “Restless Development trains, mentors, nurtures and connects thousands of young people to use their youth power and lead change. Recently, it launched a ‘Power Up’ appeal to help more women and girls in Sierra Leone, and around the world, to claim their rights to education. The project works on ensuring that girls and women can go to school, stay in school, and then go on to have careers.”

Maria Villatoro, member of Science Club International, highlights how this non-profit organization is a successful example of catalysing national and international collaboration to provide valuable insights for education in emergencies amidst a lack of essential resources like electricity or sanitation. “In Colombia, we are working with indigenous communities to provide workshops building handmade stoves or water filters.” 

Following the recent 2022 floods in Pakistan, Rameesa Khan was determined more than ever to help educate people to end period shaming and stigma. She mentions; “Pakistan is facing the biggest climate disaster and half of the country is in the water; women are facing the harsh realities more than men.” Her organization is working to help women access education, and live in dignity, by providing period products free of cost during these challenging times.

While many youths such as Yasmein, Maria and Rameesa are already being the change they want to see, a multisectoral and intergenerational approach is needed to truly achieve quality education for all. It is pivotal to have young people in all their diversities meaningfully collaborating with other stakeholders to implement gender-transformative education in their communities. Without engaging young people, there is no shared ownership. Without shared ownership, there is no commitment. Without commitment, there is no transformation. Our voices are at the heart of education.