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Youth, the economy of sex & dismantling patriarchy in Tunis

By Oxfam Australia’s Lauren Robertson – blogging from Tunisia

Last week, 22 young activists from Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Pacific and the Middle East came together in Tunisia to participate in Oxfam International Youth Partnership program’s Gender Justice Project. Selected out of a network of 300, the Action Partners taking part in this project were chosen specifically because they’re working in the area of gender empowerment in their own communities. From peace building in Pakistan, to helping women gain access to land in Liberia, to women’s empowerment in the sex slave industry in the Philippines, to mental health, sexual and reproductive rights in Columbia; these activists are doing it all (and did I mention that they’re all under 26?).

Arriving last Sunday in downtown Tunis; even with jet lag everyone was excited to be here and enthusiastic to get stuck into the first week of deep-thinking, analysing and debating some extremely complex issues. Facilitated by Oxfam staff and volunteers, the past week has seen Action Partners engaging in a variety of workshops and sessions that have focused on sharing knowledge and building capacity in areas such as gender and economic rights, systemic change, the human rights approach to development, power structures and patriarchy, as well as enhancing skills in communications, engagement and networking.

The Gender Justice Project has been strategically held in Tunisia to coincide with the 2013 World Social Forum (WSF), which is being held in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, from March 26-30. Established in Brazil in 2001 as a response to the World Economic Forum, the WSF is about generating ideas and alternatives to how we live; alternatives which have universal human rights, solidarity amongst humankind and respect for the environment at their core. It’s now an annual event that brings together individuals, organisations and movements from around the world, providing an open space for ‘reflective thinking, democratic debate, ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action’ (WSF Charter). The committee that organises the WSF each year stresses that while thousands of movements and organisations attend the event, it is not intended to be a representative body of civil society.

With the WSF about to begin, you can feel a buzz in the air as our hotel continues to fill up with pilgrims from around the world who have come to Tunis to be a part of the civil society event of the year. It presents a fantastic opportunity for Action Partners to link in with the wider economic and political systems that have created their context in the first place, and to network, build relationships and form alliances that will benefit their work in the future.

The 2013 World Social Forum will include:

  • Over 50,000+ participants
  • 4500+ organisations
  • 127 different countries
  • 1000+ workshops/activities
  • 100+ films
  • 70 music acts
  • 50 exhibitions

How will the Action Partners participate and make their mark at the WSF? Read about what events unfold in Tunis on the blog later this week and check out the OIYP facebook page for regular updates.

Oxfam International Youth Partnership program mobilises a global network of young leaders and activists to bring about positive and sustainable change. For more information about OIYP, head to the website-

Read Lauren’s blog on WTF is the WSF?