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We will not stop until the world upholds the inherent rights of every girl child. If you change her life, you can change the world” – Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director

One quarter of adolescent girls have been victims of physical violence since the age of 15

Over 70 million young women aged 20-24 in developing countries are married before the age of 18!

Startling figures like these show us why it is important to bring the issues faced by young girls all over the world into the spotlight.

To celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child this year, the UN Gender Theme Group organized a panel discussion that was moderated by UNFPA representative, Alain Sibenaler.  The panel of four judges, each with their own expertise brought a lot of provoking questions to the table. Among the panelists were Dr. Paula Bulancea (Deputy Representative, UNICEF), Dr. Harini Amarasuriya (Senior Lecturer, Open University of Sri Lanka), Mr. Sachinda Dulanjana (Member of the UN Youth Advisory Panel) and Mr. Hans Billimoria (Director, The Grassrooted Trust).

There were some great presentations and speeches made by the panelists and lots of pertinent issues raised by the young school children during the Q & A session.

We caught up with Sachinda to ask him a few questions about the event.

Sachinda is engaged in numerous community services projects throughout the country. He is a motivational speaker, conducts leadership trainings, and is a freelance writer and counselor. He is in his final undergraduate year of Bachelor of Social Work at the National Institute of Social Development. He is also a member of the United Nations Youth Advisory Panel (UNYAP) representing Social Work in the UNYAP system. He is also the founder of the youth led voluntary movement H3 Foundation – Hearts & Hands of Humanity, which motivates young people towards volunteerism.

Here’s what he had to say…

1.      Can you explain what you mean when you say “Sex is a biological construct & gender is a social construct?

As a young individual, I believe that the only difference between men and women is their body structure which is given by nature. Hence, the most important thing we need to understand is, ‘sex’ only matters in the reproduction process of human beings, which is totally biological. In simple words, we know that only men can produce sperms and only women can deliver a child. Both these biological processes have the same importance in the human reproduction process as it can be only completed with the contribution of both men and women.

However when it comes to the ‘gender’, we can clearly see that the society plays a major role in assigning different social roles to men and women based on the ‘cultural assumptions’. If we take a simple example, even the particular colours with gender (Blue for boys and Pink for girls) are also determined by these cultural assumptions. We should also not forget that some of these cultural assumptions are greatly vary due to different geographical locations, societies, cultures and historical civilization periods. The reality is, most of them are built without any logical basis. Therefore, as a young individual I always believe that, ‘Sex is a biological construct and gender is a social construct’.

2. How can young people get involved and break the cycle of violence?

As I have mentioned above, the cultural assumptions plays a major role in assigning ‘gender roles.’ Therefore I believe that young people can break this cycle of violence by firstly changing their own mind set towards these cultural assumptions on gender roles. These cultural assumptions contribute towards the extreme forms of gender based discrimination such as violence at the end, starting from the ignorance in the initial stages. It is necessary to be proactive as young people in these initial stages of this cycle where the ignorance takes place. I believe it is the best point where young people can get involved in an effective manner.

3. What is your advice on how to overcome gender stereotypes?

We should carefully deal with these gender stereotypes as they have deep roots in the current society. I believe that the best way to overcome these gender stereotypes, is to face them rather than run away from them. If we could use realistic examples of gender roles, we can help shift society’s view of assigned stereotypical gender roles.

4. How do you think we can overcome the challenge of cultural transformation as young people?

As young people first of all, we must understand that cultural transformations cannot be achieved overnight. It is a long process which can be achieved by each and every member of a society over a long period of time. If we consider the evolution of our cultures, we can clearly see that they have been derived throughout the history, over successive generations to become what they are today.

Hence we should understand the importance of being realistic while having the right mindset to act and respond accordingly to the gender-based issues which are created based on cultural assumptions. Therefore we have to vigilantly address these gender issues at this very moment in order to overcome the challenge of cultural transformation and to see a positive change in the long run.