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Special Master Class encourages and inspires students worldwide to take action against gender-based violence

05 - Gender Equality
10 - Reduced Inequalities
16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

In celebration of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, UNESCO organized a “Master Class on Youth against Gender-Based Violence” on 25 November 2020 with the participation of speakers, experts and advocates from different parts of the world and from a range of sectors. 

At a time when the world is facing an unprecedented health, economic and social crisis, we must not forget that the COVID-19 pandemic is superimposed on a "shadow pandemic", that of violence against girls and women.

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO

I invite all of you to stand up and take action against gender-based violence, and especially young men and boys, whom I encourage to work hard and hand-in-hand with young women and girls – because together, we can finally end the cycles of violence and build truly inclusive and peaceful societies.

Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences

In addressing the role of youth in combatting gender-based violence, the event generated meaningful dialogues around the various causes, effects and contemporary forms of violence against women, while also emphasizing the different actions that need to be taken in order to fight it. The Master Class served as a peer-learning forum aimed at empowering young people by deepening their understanding and encouraging them to fight violence against women and girls; and engaging youth to become effective catalysts of change and trainers within their own schools, families and communities for enduring impact.

Opened by Ms Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, the Master Class welcomed almost 200 participants from more than 80 countries around the world. The session began with a keynote speech by Ms Dubravka Šimonovic, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, and was followed by lectures from the following speakers: Mr Hassan Sekajoolo, Board member of MenEngage Global Alliance representing Africa; Ms Seyi Akiwowo, Founder and Executive Director of Glitch, a not-for-profit organization determined to end online abuse; and Dr Tim Shand, Co-founder and Director of ShandClarke Consulting Ltd, an expert in women’s empowerment, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. Participants were treated to a musical performance by Ms Mathilde Haccart, a gender specialist at the International Trade Center. The discussion was moderated by Mr Juan-Pablo Ramirez-Miranda, Programme specialist at UNESCO Office in New Delhi.

Participants raised significant points in relation to providing young people with information about the status of violence against women while highlighting how it is both a shared and lived experience for many across the globe. Others discussed the strengthening of partnerships between schools, organizations and governments, especially by supporting youth-led initiatives and providing more opportunities and trainings. A young gender activist expressed her agreement on the need to redefine the representation of men and boys in society, while also emphasizing that this starts at home – through education. 

Ms Gabriela Ramos emphasized the importance of eradicating violence against women by raising awareness on the issues and by taking concrete actions to eliminate it in society. She also underlined the significant role of youth in achieving this collective goal and pointed out how the younger generation has much to contribute in terms of their awareness, connectivity and consciousness around the issue. Beyond this, she applauded the empathy and initiative demonstrated by today’s youth in addressing the various contemporary issues that the world has been facing. She concluded with a call to action to fight violence against women and reminded participants that in doing so, “it will be great for girls and women, but it will also be great for boys and the whole society.” 

Ms Dubravka Šimonovic discussed her work and cooperation with UN agencies, including the formulation of recommendations for measures at the national, regional and local levels in fighting against violence against women. Her latest work focuses on the intersection between the pandemic of violence against women and the COVID-19 pandemic. She also called upon every young person to create change and influence and encouraged them to read about her work, the mandates and legal frameworks on the issue.

Ms Seyi Akiwowo underscored the importance of intersectionality in ending online abuse while explaining how Glitch was a product of the founder’s own lived experience of online abuse and gender-based violence. She explained how the repercussions of online abuse were greater within certain groups as “not everybody experiences online abuse in the same way” and drew attention to the importance of digital citizenship and responsibility. “We all have a key role to play to ensure well-being online,” she concluded.

Dr Tim Shand discussed the different stereotypes associated with men and women and their link to the perpetuation of violence against women. He emphasized the need for a paradigm shift in encouraging us to celebrate more of what it means to be a man: “to be emotional, to be loving, to open your heart, to be equitable and to challenge violence” as he urged participants to challenge stereotypes and encourage this conversation in schools. 

Mr Hassan Sekajoolo talked about his work and underlined the importance of creating a new identity of being a man in illustrating the need for a society where “youth can look up to the man that respects everyone around him, a man who respects diversity” alongside the need to transform oppressive social structures that women and girls live in. Moreover, he noted how it was important to “challenge the social norms” and emphasized the value of empathy in combatting violence against women by stating that “if we manage to increase the level of empathy in men, we are making progress.”

The UNESCO Master Class Series aims to sensitize young people to the phenomena of racism and discriminations in society, understand their origins and discuss concepts. It is a means of conveying fundamental knowledge on the construction of prejudice and sharing experiences through testimonies so that everyone can, at his or her own level, fight against racism and discrimination in various forms. Beyond raising awareness, the Master Class is designed to collectively reflect on a list of commitments to be made by the schools so that they can apply them in their curricula. The Series is part of the anti-racism roadmap that UNESCO is currently developing, which includes a scanning project to strengthen institutional and legal frameworks against racism and discriminations, affirmative actions in public and private sectors, and anti-biases training.