In 1969, Nina Simone wrote the hit “to be young, gifted and black”. With the eruption of recent protests by young, gifted and black girls in South Africa, I could not help but recall this song. I also could not help but recall how far we have come from 1969 but how we still remain behind. The cyclical nature of prejudice, stereotyping, racism and xenophobia are plagues to our societies despite all our progress and conscientiousness to achieve sustainable development universally.
In this light, I thought it was important to highlight how the struggles of 13year old girls in South Africa – based on the choice of a natural hairstyle – is the struggle of young, gifted and black girls throughout the world. In my case, I was not immune: not even on my natal soils of Trinidad and Tobago, or during my childhood years in London, or thereafter having studied in the prestigious institutes of King’s College London, Sciences Po Paris or the College of Europe (Bruges), or when interning in the European Commission in Brussels, where I now live. For this reason, I support the struggles of these young girls as emblematic of wider struggles we must face as young, gifted and black women globally. At the United Nations, the world’s leaders recently agreed to achieve 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030. In particular, SDG number 5, to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” will only ever be achieved, if we can all recognise that the struggle in South Africa is a universal struggle for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. Why should they be denied of their existence, to be young, gifted and black?
In her song, Nina Simone admits that “There are times when I look back and I am haunted by my youth (…)”. I believe, that in South Africa where Nelson Mandela is iconic of the struggles against the evils of the apartheid system that sought to not only separate but also to permanently discriminate against black people, we cannot continue to allow a new generation of girls to be haunted by their youth. Not only would this be an insult to the legacy of Mandela and the global struggle against apartheid, but it would also be an insult to what we are aiming to achieve globally with the SDGs. The African Caribbean and Pacific Young Professionals Network that I founded provides a platform for professional development for young professionals, regardless of their nationality, colour, ethnicity, religion, ability or disability, in order to assure that all young professionals can be equal citizens, active and capable of positively influencing a world that embraces them and incorporates them from the local to international level. At ACP YPN, we support the struggles of the 13year old girls in South Africa. This struggle is not an isolated case, it is part of our universal efforts to achieve SDG5 on gender equality and empowerment, and we are taking the first step to achieving that by showing our international solidarity.
Yentyl Williams is Founder of the African Caribbean and Pacific Young Professionals Network (ACP YPN).
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