An Incredible Atmosphere Of Determination Filled The Room

Delegate from Germany, Caroline Schuettig on the Human Rights Plenary Session at this year's Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Writing about Human Rights, especially here in South Africa is special. I’m talking about “special” in a sense of an almost overwhelming richness of historical and societal events that have struck the country. It the context of One Young World, this years’ delegates and Ambassadors have been addressing human rights as essential and of prime importance for the agenda of the Summit. It is especially after the Plenary Session that I understand how everyone involves himself or herself in the topic.


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This time last year, I had been following the Delegate Speakers sharing their stories regarding a broad range of Human Rights related topics in Pittsburgh via the live stream. This year, I get the chance to be right here in Jo'burg to join the conversation. It was the first full conference day with fully packed schedule. I was excited and curious about the Session that particularly focused on gender inequality.

Six courageous speakers told us their very personal stories in the Plenary. Interesting enough, in a gender inequality-focused Session, we had five females and one brave male speaker on stage. Don’t let the numbers trick you, the subsequent Q&A made clear that the topic was highly important for all genders alike. I will relay some of my thoughts about how the speakers and the Session certainly inspired me and some other 1,250 delegates at the Summit.

First up was Amanda from the United States, whose story I recently read about. She spoke about how we must start talking about rape and raising awareness about its cruel reality. Then followed Imarah from Guyana, who advocates for an inclusive society, wherein women, men, as well as LGBT groups are treated equally. Mohammad from Kuwait has an impressive record in acting up on women’s rights. Sally from Hong Kong addressed the issue of gender inequality from a career perspective, which was particularly interesting for me, as I’ve just been looking into that topic myself. Emily from the United Kingdom explained how we cannot deny that there are approximately 27 million victims of global human trafficking. What we people from Western societies may have believed to only know from hearsay is shockingly the second largest industry after drugs.

As every single one of those speakers walks up on stage, I keep thinking how much respect I have for them, for what they achieved, for what they have been through and for what they stand for today. As they spoke, everybody listened. And I mean everybody. Normally people would engage in conversation, tweet or check their Facebook, but the audience paid full attention.

These six extraordinary people from all corners of the world reminded me why we all came together for the Summit. We attend the Summit as change agents. We strive for creating a better world. We talk about taking action. Indeed, these individuals are not talking any longer, they’ve been taking action. They demonstrate incredible strength and dedication to fight a prevailing system of violence, harassment and inequality on a personal, local and eventually global scale.

One Counsellor referred to the anger that she felt was present in the speeches. Indeed we all, including the speakers and audience, seemed to be involved on a very emotional level. Mostly because all of these issues are so real and because we do not understand why this keeps happening. Often, the discussed problems linked with education, discussed in a previous Plenary Session. We cannot close our eyes anymore, we must face the fact that our action is required now. But it is also the audience who made a difference in this Session. The Q&A was swamped with questions and remarkable contributions. In earlier Sessions we talked a lot about “passion”. In this context, I believe that “dedication” would be an appropriate word for the Human Rights Plenary. People are deeply moved but not put off by reality. In fact they show serious concern about how to tackle these global problems collectively.

Many of the stories I listened to were utterly terrifying, some almost inconceivable. But most importantly they do not prevent anyone from giving up. An incredible atmosphere of determination filled the room. I am determined. This topic is important to all of us right now. We cannot let violence and inequality prevail. Human rights violation, whether it is based on gender, identity or such ridiculousness like whom we love is not acceptable.