Youth Accountability Advocate Shagun Sharma shares her experience working with young people tackling Gender Based Violence in a remote community in India.
I was selected as a Youth Accountability Advocate for the Youth-Led Accountability Programme by Restless Development India in August 2019. Aiming to take young voices to local, regional and global community members in Delhi, I began the journey of evidence-based advocacy with the guidance of the mentors at the agency.
My year-long journey under the program had been filled with challenges, surprises, milestones and immense growth! And here are few insights from my incredible experience with the organisation.
Embracing new beginnings
In September 2019, the selected Advocates underwent a Residential Training on SDG 5: Gender Equality, Family Planning 2020 & Evidence-Based Advocacy, which acted as the first stride towards a rich experience and deep learning for me. My mentor helped me understand how I can align my passion for the goals with the scope of the program. This helped in integrating my personal goals with professional ambitions. Her mentorship from the first exercise to pre-research planning made the process conspicuous and easy to follow – adding to my technical skill set and increasing my confidence.
The design of the programme was intriguing to me, as it allowed young people to become team leaders. The Youth Accountability Advocates are required to form teams with 6-10 young people from the communities, helping us explore and improve our leadership abilities and effectiveness.
During the Data Collection Training conducted in January 2020, we were advised to constructively engage our changemakers (the young people we were mobilising in the community) as they are key stakeholders in the process of research and advocacy. With the support of my mentor at Restless Development India, I could build the team and induct them into the programme. A challenging journey had just begun.
Leadership amidst challenges
My team worked to address the issue of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in the community of JJ Colony, Bawana, Delhi, India. We had to conduct a primary research using the pre-planned quantitative and qualitative tools. However, this was planned for March 2020, just as a national lockdown was put in place following the outbreak of COVID-19 – restricting any movement beyond our houses. To adapt to the changing environment, the programme shifted online. Our team worked tirelessly to conduct the research virtually. We collected case studies online and also led an online awareness campaign.
Despite the uncertainties, what really shone through was how committed the changemakers were to improving the state of their community. Within a week, my team had collected over 290 survey responses from different segments of the community. I felt fortunate to witness and learn from their commitment to the work.
The rapid social and political unrest caused by COVID-19, presented further challenges, and the journey has been transformative for my team. We learnt that resilience, team-work & commitment can help in achieving goals that help to change the larger community in the long term.
Opportunity knocked at my door
I’m really excited to share that engaging with Restless Development opened many doors for me. In January 2020, I was selected to represent Restless Development at the United Nations 64th Commission on the Status of Women in New York City. However, due to COVID-19, the conference got suspended for 2020.
I also represented the organisation in an Instagram Live with HCD Exchange, a Kenya-based youth organisation. I shared with them my experience in the community and advised how GBV programs can be made more youth-inclusive.
On 21st October 2020, I represented the organisation at the United Nations World Data Forum virtually along-with peers from Uganda, & Madagascar. The session’s advocacy asks emphasised the importance of community-level data collection, through engaging community-based young people in policy design, implementation, monitoring & evaluation. The event was attended by people in power from the media, government statistical departments, and civil society organisations.
We need to focus on data at community-level to ensure that the programmes and government schemes penetrate to the last person in the field. The key to authentic and quality community-level data for monitoring SDGs & government programs is to engage the youth of the communities and train them.Shagun Sharma, Youth Accountability Advocate, India