“It is not a dream, it is a duty”

Fatou Lo attended the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing as a teenaged youth delegate. Today, she is the Deputy Representative of UN Women in Sudan.


If I needed a reminder that time is passing by quickly, this year and next would serve that purpose. It is hard to believe that it has been 20 years since I proudly represented the youth of my country, Senegal, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. I had just graduated from high school, top of my class, and it was my first trip out of Africa. To say that I was excited would be an understatement: I was ecstatic!

Fatou Lo
Photo courtesy of Fatou Lo

How did it happen? For over a year, I spent most of my weekends in meetings discussing issues ranging from education, to access to healthcare, peace, employment, eradicating female genital mutilation, with other youth representatives in Senegal. We were outlining the world we wanted then, delighted to be given a platform to share our thoughts. It was basically a peaceful world where women and girls could fulfil their rights and where youth in general would be able to fulfil their potential. We certainly did not know what we were up against so we carried our messages with the unparalleled conviction and confidence of young age, all the way from the national consultations and validations meetings to the Africa Youth consultation and to Beijing.

Besides the privilege of being part of the possibly largest international gathering of women ever, what I recall and will forever cherish from Beijing is the strong sense of connection to women from all walks of life, women from countries I had never heard of before and who were fighting for the same cause. If social media and emails were widespread in 1995, the Beijing conference would have been a communications tsunami over the world.

Looking back, I am comforted by the progress made since Beijing but I am also concerned by the relative fragility of this progress in so many countries where women continue to bear the burden of poverty, armed conflict, gender-based violence and all sorts of violations of their fundamental rights.

The world where an unprecedented number of women are reaching top-level positions in the political sphere and in the private sector is the same world where the rise of conservatism in many countries is denying women their rights, voice and choices. It is the same world where girls who just want an education can be abducted and threatened to be sold into slavery. It is the same world where women are the majority of the poor and where too many women die in childbirth. It is the same world where often commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment remain lip service. It is the same world where policies, laws, institutions and societies continue to discriminate against women and girls.

As I continue my personal journey for women’s rights and women’s empowerment, I remain grateful to those who have paved the way and made it possible for me and many others to have a voice, and to have opportunities and I will thrive to make my own contribution to a better world for women and girls. It is not a dream, it is a duty.

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