In claiming lives and wreaking economic havoc throughout Asia-Pacific, the COVID-19 pandemic places an especially heavy burden on girls and women for reasons including their more limited access to potentially life-saving information, the stress resulting from increases in unpaid care and domestic work, and the loss of income from informal employment. This is the fraught setting in which Women Deliver — a leading global advocate for gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women — announced today its 2020 class of Young Leaders.
Totaling 300 young changemakers, the class includes 67 individuals from 19 Asia-Pacific countries, who are committed to advancing gender equality in efforts focused on health, rights, education, climate, and other issues in the region. This class represents a deep commitment to adolescents and marginalized groups, with nearly a third of the total number of Young Leaders identifying as LGBTQIA+ and 20% belonging to a religious or ethnic minority group in their country.
The collective message of the Asia-Pacific Young Leaders is that advocates of the caliber the region needs to address multiple crises from gender, youth, and minority perspectives will not emerge spontaneously but must be actively sought and cultivated — particularly among groups that have been traditionally excluded.
“Across Asia-Pacific, leaders are trying their best to address COVID-19 in their communities, countries, and region, but few are equipped to address the dire challenges for girls and women,” said Dakshitha Wickremarathne, a Women Deliver Board Member and an alumnus of the Young Leaders Program, from Sri Lanka. “In fact, the lack of gender-specific data means leaders often don’t fully understand what those challenges are. This is why it’s so important for Women Deliver to elevate and support young advocates who are aware of the problems and aspirations of their communities, and are best positioned to find solutions.”
The 67 Asia-Pacific Young Leaders focus on issues ranging from cyberbullying to improved nutrition. They include:
- Agita Pasaribu, a 27-year-old Indonesian lawyer whose company uses artificial intelligence to put an end to cyberbullying and detect early symptoms of mental illness. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has launched a new platform that provides free mental health support and legal information for domestic violence victims.
- Nafisa Tasneem, a 26-year-old medical volunteer who trains local leaders in southwestern Bangladesh on health, hygiene, and sanitation for girls and women, as well as girls’ rights. Working overtime to respond to the pandemic, Nafisa contracted COVID-19, recovered, and became the first woman in Bangladesh to donate her plasma.
- Rukumani (Ruku) Tripathi, a 26-year-old midwife from Nepal, who — with colleagues at the Midwifery Society of Nepal (MIDSON) – helped start a toll-free number for pregnant women unable to reach a health facility during the COVID-19 lockdown. She’s also providing online counseling for women of reproductive age.
Ananya Singh, a 21-year-old student from India, who supports young girls and women to stay "safe, relevant, and efficient" in the digital economy. She is running a campaign, #TweakTikTok with over 95,000 signatures, asking social media giant TikTok — a growing platform with over 81 million active users in India — to make it easier to report and monitor abusive content directed at women, especially during the global pandemic and lockdown period.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world that if we truly want to deliver health, wellbeing, and dignity for all, girls, women, and young people must be front and center in emergency responses, in social and economic recovery efforts, and in how we strengthen our health systems for the long term,” said Katja Iversen, President/CEO of Women Deliver. “As we witness young people responding to both new crises and old injustices, it’s clear their leadership is fundamental to meaningful change. The Women Deliver Young Leaders Program is here to partner with young people, elevate their leadership, amplify their voices, and share knowledge and resources during this unprecedented time and beyond.”
This was the program’s most competitive application process yet, with more than 5,600 applications from 167 countries for 300 spots — nearly double the applications received in the previous round.
Women Deliver selected all the Young Leaders for their potential to have a lasting impact on the lives of girls and women. As a group, they have already driven tangible progress on a wide range of issues, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, LGBTQIA+ rights, peace and security, water and sanitation, gender-based violence, education, climate and environment, political participation, and youth engagement.
As in past years, the 2020 class will receive training and resources that extend their influence and enhance their capacity to shape programs and policies on the health and rights of girls, women, and young people. Since 2010, Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program has trained and supported 700 advocates, who are tackling the challenges that girls, women, and young people face in their communities and countries.