Interview: “Transformative change can only be achieved in a peaceful world with the inclusion of all young persons in all of our diversity”
Rashima Kwatra is a young, lesbian, migrant, feminist who took active part at the 2022 Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for the UNECE region. She works as an International Advocacy Advisor for RFSL - the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons’ Rights. Kwatra advocates for the inclusion of persons with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics, as well as other historically marginalized groups, across both human rights and sustainable development spaces.
How did you become an advocate for youth and LGBTQI community rights?
I was raised in Bangkok, Thailand, in a close-knit and, at that time, quite conservative, Indian migrant community. As a young, queer, woman, growing up in a heteronormative society which also valued boys over all other children, I felt very personally the disempowerment that is attached to both being a woman and lesbian. My own experiences, the generational experiences and inherited trauma of the women in my community, as well as their resilience and resistance, and the realization that I could not exercise my own human rights, led me to pursue a career in gender equality.
I have since resided and worked in Asia, North America, and Europe, where I am currently based. Having lived in different regions, cultural, religious, and political contexts, has made me acutely aware that the drivers of discrimination are ubiquitous and systemic. They are perpetuated by structural oppression, punitive laws, and failures in domestic policies.
What are the most urgent issues of our time and how do you think they should be tackled?
Young people today are not inheriting the future we deserve. We live in a world where the voices of leaders who promote misogyny and undermine gender equality ring loud. Further, decision-makers globally are sacrificing our future for capitalistic and political gains, failing to address patriarchy and other forms and systems of oppression, continue to politicize and criminalize our rights to our bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive rights, skirt historical and current responsibilities of the climate crisis, and are doing so without accountability.
This is happening amidst the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, where marginalized youth are among the greatest affected. We are facing numerous existential threats that can only be tackled if we work together, in partnership, intergenerationally, inclusively, and intersectionally. I believe the realization of all human rights and the 2030 Agenda will never be achieved unless we move forward with the explicit participation of young people and those who have historically been left behind.
What role does the youth play in promoting gender equality, women’s empowerment, and inclusion?
Young people are the experts of our own lives and are best placed to serve our peers. We need the financial resources and opportunities to drive decision-making and lead action on sustainable development.
Many of us grew up in a generation where we needed to pioneer social change and attitudes in our communities, including by creating spaces where our intersecting identities could be celebrated visibly. We continue to play an important role in bridging the digital divide and have built communities, coalitions, and movements across borders, ages, and identities. Yet, young people are rarely recognized as the experts we are and are even less so engaged as resources to design laws and policies that affect our lives.
The world’s population is younger, more active, and more informed, than ever before. We deserve and must be given every opportunity to lead the transformative change we wish to see in our lifetime.
Do you see any progress in society’s tolerance and recognition of youth and the rights of LGBTQI persons?
Absolutely! In the time that I have been working specifically with sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics issues, almost 10 countries and territories have decriminalized same-sex relations (over 67 countries still do), more and more countries are protecting the lives, rights, and wellbeing of trans and intersex persons, respecting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people, and more organizations working across these issues exist than ever before.
Nevertheless, we also see a rise in actors that are working nationally and transnationally to dismantle the progress made on gender equality. The pushback that we are witnessing is not just against certain groups of people, it is a pushback on the entire gender equality agenda and the gains that we have won for all women and girls, including those with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics.
What actions are most needed to advance gender equality and inclusion in the context of COVID-19 pandemic?
To advance gender equality barriers to all young people's participation must be removed. Policies that are made for us cannot keep being made without us.
All stakeholders must work intersectionally, ensure gender mainstreaming in all development policies and programs, and map as well as address the specific needs of marginalized young people.
We must use inclusive language when drafting policies, programs, and standards. Language matters, and we need to account for people who identify beyond the binary of men and women, as well as others who are often overlooked or excluded.
We need data, and we need data that is representative. There needs to be a concerted push for stronger institutional collection of data, giving greater legitimacy to the data that is being generated by civil society and other actors that are collecting data about populations, and greater funding initiatives focused on safe, ethical, and secure data collection.
Lastly, gender equality can only be advanced if we work to dismantle patriarchy and the systemic forms of oppression which drive inequality. Centrally, we need to tackle sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, misogyny, gender-based violence and other intersecting forms of discrimination, that continue to impact women, girls, and young persons of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics, disproportionately.
Transformative change and the 2030 Agenda can only be achieved in a peaceful world with the inclusion of all young persons in all of our diversity.