Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women and a UN under-secretary-general, visited Innis Town Hall on June 7.

Mlambo-Ngcuka was joined by six other panelists including Claire Charness, the 2012 Canadian delegate to the 3rd annual Girls20 summit; Aldeli Alban Reyna, public policy coordinator at YWCA; Nasma Ahmed, a YWCA member; Lia Valente and Tessa Hill, founders of We Give Consent; and Jason Tan de Bibiana, program coordinator of Next Gen Men. The discussion was driven by the unique experiences and backgrounds of the panelists as they shared their visions on achieving gender equality.

Mlambo-Ngcuka told attendees that the reason why UN Women is particularly focused on young people is that the issues that women from previous generations have dealt with are exceedingly different from those that this generation faces: “The danger of excluding young people is that we are going to become irrelevant. Because we are renting the space right now, as older people, in order to hand the space that we have to young people. So who are we to monopolize the space exclusively?”

“One of the most important things about being young is that you have to be a part of something that is bigger than you,”said Mlambo-Ngcuka. “You have to be in a community with other young people, you have be a part of a team, you have to be a part of an organization because the learning from your peers is amazing.”

The panelists also expressed a desire to move beyond the gender binaries of “male” and “female,” and emphasis was also placed on the inclusion of boys and men in the dialogue on gender equality. Mlambo-Ngcuka told the crowd, “I think what we are striving to do in our HeForShe campaign is not only for the boys and men to stand up for gender equality but it is also for us to understand their needs and to be there to support them.“ The HeForShe campaign was launched by UN Women in 2014.

The panel discussion at Innis Town Hall was a part of UN Women’s mission to Canada. Earlier in the day Mlambo-Ngcuka participated in a roundtable discussion with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne at the Rotman School of Management, where Wynne announced gender diversity targets for provincial boards and agencies.

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