For International Youth Day Sharon Settecasse looks at what lessons the development sector, and especially those working with young women, could take from the popular children’s book, ‘Room on the Broom’.
Room on the Broom is a children’s book packed with lessons for children, and, as it turns out, for the development sector. It is story of a witch who, whilst flying on her broom with her cat, is joined by some unusual passengers – a dog, a frog and a bird. When the broom breaks they all fall to the ground and a dragon arrives demanding ‘witch and chips’ for dinner. Together, the broom’s passengers, now covered in mud, stand on each other’s shoulders to scare off the giant adversity. The witch then magics up a new broom to comfortably accommodate all her unusual passengers and off they go into a more secure future.
She is willing to transform power structures to enable participation, and is determined to continue leading despite being confronted by age-old adversitiesThroughout the book, the witch role models behaviour that demonstrates her capacity to see the unique strengths and skills in unusual suspects. She is willing to transform power structures (her broom) to enable participation, and is determined to continue leading despite being confronted by age-old adversities.
From the beginning, the witch, as leader with power, values each unusual passenger for the strengths they bring, prompting her to invite them to join her. In development strategies are often designed towards young women’s “empowerment” or “leadership” through capacity building, training and awareness raising. Although crucial to a young person’s meaningful participation, evidence shows that this alone, does not lead to transformative change. We know that young people, especially young women, are usually left out of decision-making spaces and excluded from economic opportunities. Role-models can champion and mentor young women to feel confident and capable of participating in these spaces. Oxfam’s youth manifesto reflects young people’s commitment to building ‘a fair, just and sustainable society.’
positive female role models as well as male role models are important for young women to look up toThroughout the book, the witch role models the behaviour that inspires her passengers. Research has shown that positive female role models as well as male role models are important for young women to look up to. In India in 1993, the Panchayati Raj act, was introduced, which required village councils to reserve one-third of their seats and council leader positions, for women. Iris Bohnet cites ‘the act of seeing women lead increased women’s self-confidence and their willingness to compete in male-dominated domains, and it changed men’s and women’s beliefs about what an effective leader looked like.’
Not all women in leadership are automatically role models for all young women. One person cannot be a representative of everyone, however, having a diverse range of role models in different aspects of a young woman’s life is important – families, communities, political spheres, at work and in social and cultural spaces.
Another aspect is the number of visible role models. Felogene Anumo and Valérie Bah write; ‘One of the functions of patriarchy is to erase women and gender nonconforming people from historical records… Spaces like the African Feminist Forum (AFF) have created opportunities for feminists from across Africa and its diaspora to connect and learn from one another, including the giants on whose shoulders we stand.’
Today, young women are more educated, more connected through social media and mobile phone technology and have more access to information including stories of people who show them what is possible. From seeing Beyoncé performing in front of the word Feminist, Mallala Yousafzai speaking at the United Nations, or reading Chin Sokunthor’s story , a female farmer from Cambodia fighting to protect the Mekong River.
This International Youth Day as Oxfam celebrates the vibrancy, skills and drive of young women we should keep in mind the need for bold role models to inspire young women to pursue their dreams.
So the answer is yes, there is room on the broom for young women. The end.