Take five: "The future is ours to change, so let’s do it together!"
Lovisa Salomonsson is an international youth volunteer from Sweden, working at UN Women in Moldova since October 2022. The past years, she has become an activist for gender equality, devoting her time volunteering at different organizations in Sweden working for human rights and women’s empowerment. On the occasion of International Youth Day, we spoke to Lovisa about her experiences as a young activist.
As a young Swede, what inspired your journey to becoming a champion for gender equality and joining UN Women Moldova?
For as long as I can remember, I have considered myself a feminist. I am proud to say that Gender Equality is a core value that I have gotten from my parents, and it has only been solidified by each injustice I have experienced and witnessed. Becoming an activist and seeking out a career where I can work for a more gender equal society has therefore been a very natural decision. It is a way for me to transform my frustration into something productive, and hopefully leave the world behind a little bit better than I found it.
While there is still work to be done in Sweden regarding gender equality, I wanted to learn from people who are championing for women’s rights in an environment that is less accepting than the Swedish one. UN Women Moldova also work for gender equality in so many different ways: ending violence against women, empowering women in peacebuilding and the security sector, women’s economic empowerment, women in governance, gender equality in the humanitarian response, and so much more. It is an office where I have the privilege to learn from the men and women who spend each and every working day tirelessly going above and beyond to make Moldova better for both men and women in all their diversity.
Can you share some of the activities or projects you were involved in prior to join UN Women team, and how they might have influenced your passion for women's rights and gender equality?
Just a few months before joining UN Women, I was doing an internship at a feminist peace organization in Sweden. During my internship, I got to meet and work with a network of Afghan women who had worked with peace and gender equality in Afghanistan, but due to the Taliban insurgency had been evacuated to Sweden. The purpose of the network was to have a forum where women who had firsthand experience about women’s rights (or lack thereof) in Afghanistan, who knew and had contact with women on the ground, and who had excessive experiences of working with gender equality could discuss solutions to the ongoing crisis. The organizations where I was doing my internship supported the network through organizing round table discussions with relevant Swedish ministries, where the women could provide vital insights on what was happening and how the international community can work to protect women in Afghanistan.
This experience definitely broadened my understanding on how gender equality and women’s rights can be worked for, and how vital it is to empower other women. If we don’t include the voices of the women who are being affected by a crisis in the formulation of the solutions, we risk creating more harm than good. The same goes when we discuss gender-based violence, humanitarian response, and really anything where a gender perspective is needed. It was also inspiring to see how the commitment to the rights of women in Afghanistan never wavered for these women, even after a lot of what they had worked for was undone and they had to leave their homes.
What challenges have you encountered as a young activist advocating for gender equality, and how have you overcome them?
As a young activist, and especially as a young woman activist, there are often times when people don’t take me seriously. I can’t even tell you how many times I have been called naive, or have people say that I don’t know what I am talking about. I think it is easy for some people to look at a young woman and discredit her without even hearing what she has to say first. As young women activists, we often have to prove ourselves as capable and knowledgeable for people to be interested in what we have to say.
This would often frustrate me when I was younger, and I often found my emotions getting in the way of the point I was trying to make. This would make it easy for people to feel correct in discrediting me, cause in their eyes I was just an angry young woman, too caught up in her feelings. As I have experienced these types of situations more and more, I have come to realize the prejudice that some people may have against me due to my age and gender. While I do find it difficult, I do my best to put my emotions aside and open myself up to hearing the other persons thoughts and opinions. I listen to their arguments and try to make the other person feel heard. I try to reason with them and challenge their views without making them feel attacked, even when their opinions and thoughts goes against everything I believe in. Some men wrongfully see gender equality as an attack on their own rights, and by taking away any sense of hostility, it is often easier for them to be receptive.
I have also learned when to pick my fight. There are people who will never be interested in hearing what you have to say, and who will never be open to a point of view that is challenging their own. Instead of wasting energy and time on these discussions, I try to focus on the people who I think are actually susceptible to a constructive conversation.
Can you share a particular moment or story from your time with UN Women Moldova that reinforced the importance of your work or inspired you further?
There are plenty of such moments, but on the International Youth Day I think it’s only right to highlight all the incredible meetings I have had with young Moldovans through our work at UN Women. It is so inspiring to see all the Moldovan girls and boys who are not only wishing for a change, but who are actively working towards it. They question the status quo and are not afraid to make their voices heard, even when speaking directly to representatives of government. Young people in Moldova are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but they are also constantly showing that they are the leaders of today. This is reinforced with every young person I meet during our events, but also when participating in the Women’s march on 8th of March or during the Pride march. Witnessing this firsthand is incredibly inspiring, and I genuinely believe that one of the keys to a more gender equal Moldova is the young population.
As we celebrate Youth Day, what message or call to action would you like to convey to other young women and men around the world, especially those keen on being agents of change in gender equality?
Let frustration be a source of inspiration! Many of us look at the world and sometimes feel overwhelmed with all of the injustice that we see, be it regarding gender equality, or the rights of LGBTQIA+, people of color, or any other vulnerable group that are being oppressed. We see how in countries all around the world, there is pushbacks and rights that are being revoked. It can feel disheartening and discouraging, and sometimes it can make you feel very small.
But by becoming an agent of change, you will open yourself up to a community of people who believe in and work for the same things you do, and it is a community that spans all across the world. Together we can join in our frustration and be inspired by how many of us are determined to create a better society for all. The future is ours to change, so let’s do it together.