Finding a Role in the SDGs: My Experience at UNGA

By: Inaam Abuelsoud; Women Deliver Young Leader

Location: Cairo

Waking up to an email notification on a stuffy summer day in August, I read excitedly all the events scheduled to take place the following month in the unordered, bustling city of New York. Nervousness creeps over me, as I interrogate why I’m not as actively involved in advocacy as I should be. I think of my work and why I have been invited to take part in the unfolding of the global plan for development. I am exhausted thinking through the preparation I must undertake for this journey; how will I articulate the current project I have been working on and how does this apply to the SDGs?

Location: New York City

It took me that week to weave the bigger picture into the geographically focused work I do. I’m hesitant to give details on my work, I know I’m here as a Women Deliver Young Leader. It doesn’t seem to be enough reason for my presence among individuals who color their short talks with excessive excitement about development. I’m confident I have passion for women’s rights and I define myself as a feminist, but I’m not positive about how the field of development speaks to these issues.

I have learnt through the Women Deliver’s E-Course 1 that in order to advocate for sexual and reproductive health it is essential to contextualize the topic for each participate, considering their culture and past knowledge. I hadn’t speculated as to how to do this in the global advocacy context. I believe my biggest concern within the development sphere is gender-based violence, but I’m not comfortable with people limiting Egyptian women’s challenges to female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, and child marriage. This is not saying they are trivial issues, but has any entity or donor ventured out to understand what women need and/or strive for? Who decides what women need? How many women are involved in the decision making in such processes? I’m preoccupied and anxious.

These thoughts raced through my head the moment I enter a room fully occupied by a well-dressed, prim crowd generating and regenerating prescriptions for a better world in 2030. A woman approaches me and asks where I come from, promptly asking for a “take away message from me, as a young person, to the rest of the world.” I’m confused. Is she asking me because of where I am from, because of who I am? How can I speak on behalf of all young Egyptians? How can I give a message to people I have never met? How do we relate to each other, other than being in the same age group? How can my message be applicable to every situation if there’s no context? I was never a fan of abstract messages lacking context - they overlook the special needs of the specific community in question. I certainly aspire for a more humane tomorrow – why else would I be doing what I’m doing? I’m questioning my duties, agency, and rights and asking my peers to do the same. I keep these thoughts to myself and wait to be featured to speak days later at How Will Today’s Young Leaders Achieve the Global Goal?

There, I sit comfortable with the familiar faces and warm introductions. I’m here to talk about the work I do and figure out how the listeners can support it. I tell myself I’m not to get so philosophical with my thoughts and coat my anger birthed from the weak communication between donors, policymakers, and grassroots organizations with the thrilling excitement of the project I’m working on. I think of SRHR in Egypt and how working in this field and injecting the topic into everyday is a political act; an act I fail to perform on the street. Through the current project I’m working on, I play with tools to increase female presence in local youth centers in three Egyptian governorates: Assiut, Sohag, and Sharqia. The project is titled: Population Awareness Club (PAC). We work on preparing young women and men in the selected governorates to address their communities’ needs and to establish Population Awareness Clubs to increase young people’s awareness on population issues and their role in mitigating them. The PAC is a decentralized center for disseminating awareness of population issues including reproductive and sexual health, gender-based violence, and family planning among youth of both genders. The centers also allow for cooperation between local NGOs in planning and executing initiatives to address problems faced by their local communities. They offer counseling services and act as a knowledge-oriented center for the local inhabitants.

I aspire to participate in creating a space in Egypt’s underserved three governorates, where young women and men feel safe, have access to accurate information on sexual and reproductive health, and become confident, cooperative, and active citizens. For me this is the micro-scaling the SDGs.

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