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Listen to women

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The world is listening to young people, perhaps more importantly, they are listening to young women. Climate activist Greta Thunberg just became Time magazine’s youngest-ever Person of the Year, at just 16 years old. And she is not alone. 

Thunberg has become a global phenomenon not just because of her age and gender but also because of her uncompromising stand on climate change. Her forthrightness refuses to hide behind platitudes of false hope and in calling out world leaders and, essentially the entire adult generation, she is refusing to let people look away from a quintessential truth – the world is at the beginning of a mass extinction and not enough is being done.  

She is not the only one. As a new decade approaches, more and more progressive movements around the world are being led by young people, many of them girls and women. And while those female activists have long been a key part of such movements, they’re getting mainstream attention in a way they have not always in the past. 

Beyond climate activism, young women in government are also capturing the attention of the media and the public. US Congress Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, now 30, has made her age an asset, connecting with young progressive voters around issues they care about in ways that feel authentic to them. Over in Europe, a new coalition government in Finland will be led by five women, four of them under 35 including the Prime Minister. Their top priority – fighting climate change. 

Thunberg’s rise to stardom is interesting from a political perspective because it means that political leaders around the world can no longer ignore people under 18 years of age. Though they cannot vote, they are powerful in creating large-scale movements that have the ability to change entire governments and hold leaders to account. They can also no long ignore young women for the same reason. 

Even as democracy comes under threat from rising populism, widespread discontent, weakening institutions and strongman leaders, there is an undercurrent of positive change from young people who are refusing to be towed under by the older generation. They are demanding action on everything from climate change to gun control, topics that were always simmering beneath the surface with little or no political will behind them, and making them platforms onto which politicians are forced to step onto. 

All this gives a sense of what potential lies in Sri Lanka’s female population. Nearly a month ago when the Cabinet and State Ministers were appointed, the absence of women was pointedly commented on but criticism largely remained limited to social media. But Sri Lankan women have the potential to change this. They can draw inspiration from the changes happening in the world around them to create a world that is genuinely progressive, inclusive and empowering. 

Perhaps one place to start would be to push for the women who were appointed to Local Government bodies in 2018 to have a more prominent role. Secondly, political parties could be encouraged to give more women nominations at the upcoming General Elections, which could give women more of a voice in Parliament to take forward issues that matter to 52% of the population. There is already an ecosystem of support created by women from all walks of life who work to support causes they are passionate about. All these are signs of incremental change, and perhaps eventually, Sri Lankan women will step up to make their own global headlines.     

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