By Richard Castillo (Man Up Campaign), Jason Tan de Bibiana (Next Gen Men) and Ravi Karkara (UN Women) | 27 September 2016
There are more young people between the ages of 10 and 24 today, than at any other time in history. Approximately 87% of the world’s 1.8 billion young people live in developing countries, which is of concern considering that many developing countries lack the capacity and infrastructure to accommodate the growing social, political, and economic needs of the youth population.
In particular, girls and young women all around the world face numerous challenges that prevent them from realizing their potential and fully contributing to their communities.
Close to one in three girls in developing regions are married before age 18, and close to one in nine girls are married before their fifteenth. Approximately 140 million girls and women in the world have suffered female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice. And in 2012, an estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were already out of school.
In response to this need, UN Women has developed its new Youth and Gender Equality strategy and the unique Youth “LEAPs” Framework – Empowered Young Women and Young Men in Gender Equality.
The “LEAPs” framework calls for strengthening young women’s Leadership, promoting Economic empowerment and skills development of young women, and Action to end violence against young women and girls. Additionally, the framework makes the strong case for promoting Participation, voice, and partnerships with young women, young women led-organizations and networks, as well as strengthening Partnerships with young men and intergenerational Partnerships to achieve gender equality.”
A key component of the UN Women’s LEAPs Framework is the second ‘P’: Partnerships with young men in gender equality. While young women and young women-led and feminist organizations must continue to lead the revolution for gender equality, if we want to achieve gender equality and Planet 50-50 by 2030, we need boys and young men to participate fully in actions to challenge the beliefs, practices, institutions, and patriarchal structures that sustain gender inequality.
Boys and young men have the ability to shift and transform socio-cultural norms about masculinity and gender, to promote the empowerment of girls and young women, and to use and share their power and privilege to ensure a more equitable society for all. During adolescence and young adulthood, there is a critical period of opportunity for boys and young men to help challenge the dominant forms of masculinity that are impeding progress towards gender equality, and to be agents of change in their communities.
There are many different ways in which boys and young men can get involved in supporting gender equality, from getting involved with community organizations, to participating in the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development’s Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality, to engaging with the UN’s global campaigns.
Youth activists like UN Global Youth Advocate Saket Mani organized a bicycle rally for gender equality with the World Peace Centre—Youth Mission in support of the HeForShe campaign. “The concept behind the rally was simple: for our society to move forward, we need a balance of genders, just like a bicycle,” explained Mani. Over 700 cyclists in Pune, India participated in the rally on April 4, 2015, and made the call to boys and men to stand up for gender equality and show up in solidarity.
Youth-led groups like Next Gen Men in Canada have created after-school programs to engage, educate, and empower boys and young men to break free of narrow gender stereotypes and to promote healthy masculinity and gender equality. Program Director Jermal Alleyne shared, “from the beginning [of the program], boys are asked to select qualities they think fit a man. Most of them choose attributes such as being aggressive, tough, loud, and physical […] that’s generally what they understand about manhood. But it’s not just that anymore”. Once they’ve been through the program, the same exercise often brings answers such as cooperation, leadership, being emotional, caring, and kind.
Global campaigns like the Man Up Campaign activate youth to end violence against women and girls. Man Up partners with youth around the world to build a network of young champions and defenders of gender equality and inclusion and provides training, resources, and support to youth-led and youth-informed initiatives. Working with youth and community organizations, Man Up applies its S.M.A.R.T. framework of sports, music, art, reflection/religion, and technology to determine what projects and initiatives can have the most impact on gender equality in local communities.
The UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development’s Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality has a new Task Force on Young Men in Gender Equality, that welcomes young men, young women, and youth-led organizations to get involved from wherever they are in the world. The Task Force is focused on engaging young men and adolescent boys and collaborating with organizations and initiatives to build partnerships with young men in gender equality. On September 8, 2016, the Task Force hosted a Twitter chat with its 50 plus young men in gender equality advocates around the world and discussed Partnerships with Young Men in Gender Equality (the 2nd ‘P’ of the LEAPs Framework!).
The UN also has three key global campaigns addressing gender equality: the HeForShe campaign calls on all men to be part of the global movement to promote women’s rights both as advocates and stakeholders, Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality asks governments to make national commitments to address the challenges that are holding women and girls back from reaching their full potential, and UNiTE to End Violence against Women raises public awareness, political will, and resources for preventing and ending all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world.
The time is now – we’re making the call for all boys and young men to LEAP in gender equality for Planet 50-50 by 2030!
 United Nations, 2011, “The United Nations Program on Youth”, http://social.un.org
 United Nations Commission on Population and Development, 2014; UNFPA, 2012a
 Feldman-Jacobs and Clifton, 2014
 UNFPA, Promundo, 2016http://www.unfpa.org/publications/adolescent-boys-and-young-men