Guest Blog from Oxfam's Youth Ambassadors: Maise and Jazmine

Oxfam Education
9 September 2016

The Young Lives conference on Gender, Adolescence and Youth at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, was fascinating.

In a panel discussion called “How Do Gender Norms Shape Health and Well-being in Early Adolescents” we heard that a worldwide study called the Global Early Adolescent Study started off just after a World Health Organisation conference in 2010. That conference brought up the issue of early adolescent gender norms and acknowledged that barely any research into this issue had ever been done until then.

The worldwide study started off with monthly meetings, usually via a Skype like conference call as the researchers spanned 15 different countries. These first meetings had no funding, which meant people were only attracted to the research because they were genuinely trying to help, which was particularly heartening. The research was predominantly carried out in middle income countries where 30-40 youngsters were interviewed and given the chance to just share their stories. Their parents/ carers were also spoken to.

The first researcher, from Belgium, spoke about the implications of puberty and how it made young people more aware of gender norms. During this time several risks for girls increase, including rape and sexual harassment. It is during this time that girls are told they cannot befriend boys and vice versa. I found this slightly shocking as it meant boys were being portrayed as dangerous to girls, making boys think that they had a reason to do terrible things like rape and sexual assault. In other words, boys being told that they were dangerous and would do that kind of thing makes it more likely to happen. The other researchers covered topics interlinking each other such as: views of people breaking the gender norm, sexuality, the development of the gender norm scale and how people learn to ‘be gendered’.

After our fascinating lecture, we proceeded to lunch in the dining hall which was absolutely brilliant.

We then went on to interview the head of the adolescent development and participation section of UNICEF,  Judith Diers. As soon as we met her she was so nice. She introduced herself as Judy and said “You know what, let’s sit outside on the grass.”

We got straight to the questions. Maise asked “What are the kind of things you do at UNICEF?” and she replied by saying she helps with health care, she helps put laws in place to protect young adults and give them the opportunities to participate and she wants young people like us to reach our highest potential, not just as adults but also as teenagers now. I then asked “What inspired you to become part of the United Nations Children’s Fund?” Judy replied that as a young child she went trick or treating around her neighbourhood but whilst getting “candy” she also carried around a box to collect money for UNICEF. She also told us her parents spoke about social justice around the dinner table.

My favourite answer was to the question “What has been your favourite country so far?” Judy replied quickly that it was Nepal, adding, “Human kind at its core is generous because even though some of the people met there had very little, they were respectful and generous towards me by cleaning my hands with water that they had carried for miles.”

Judy was very lovely; all she wanted to do was stay out in the sun talking with us. She also told us she would tell her daughter about how nice we were to her. Judy talks with her daughter about all of her trips and she said it makes her proud that her daughter is all right with her mother being away home and supporting others around the world.

All in all the experience of being at the conference makes us want to challenge societal gender norms and Maise now wants to teach her brother that he doesn’t need to pretend to be hyper masculine and like activities such as football.

Young Lives invited a number of Oxfam Youth Ambassadors to the conference on Adolescence, Youth and Gender on 8 and 9 September 2016.