by Joanna Blaz, UNA-SNY Young Professionals Editorial Director
sThe United Nations Foundation hosted a reception last week to welcome the sixth annual U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations, Munira Khalif.
The U.S. Youth Observer is appointed through a competitive, politically active pool of 18 to 25 year olds. The program is run by the U.S. Department of State and UNA-USA with the goal of engaging youth in international affairs.
Khalif will represent American youth at the 72nd UN General Assembly and at other United Nations events throughout her year-long term.
On Saturday night, the newly-appointed Khalif was eager to share with UNA-YP what she would like to achieve during her term.
“Oftentimes there are these high-level meetings… about issues that affect young people and young people are not at the table,” Khalif said.
One of Khalif’s defining experiences in activism was with the United Nations Foundation program Girl Up. As a Girl Up Teen Advisor, Khalif saw how many young women often feel marginalized and overlooked when she lobbied for the “Girls Count Act of 2015.” This law (then bill) ensures that women in developing countries obtain birth certificates and become legitimate members of society. “How do you make those people visible and make sure they’re counted?”
Khalif’s passion for women’s rights started early. Growing up in an immigrant family, Khalif was aware of the sacrifices her Somalian parents made.
“My mom is one of those women who is just such a strong advocate for women that you can’t help but become passionate for women’s issues and just gender equality in general,” Khalif said.
It’s no surprise that the Sustainable Development Goals that Khalif is passionate about are “Gender Equality” and “Quality Education.”
“Even though I had access to education, education was something that wasn’t easily accessible to girls just like me in many parts of the world, including Somalia.”
This inspired Khalif, with the help of her siblings, to start “Lighting the Way.” The organization aims to make education more accessible in east Africa.
Khalif sees other education activists as role models, and actually got to meet one of them in her home state.
“(Malala) is literally one of those examples of overcoming… immense obstacles that were put in her way to receive an education. That’s really what I’m inspired by.” Khalif said she met Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai when she came to Minnesota to speak to recent immigrant Somali girls and refugees about the importance of education.
“You have this education… we have these degrees, but it’s just the question of what are you doing, how are you making a better world, not only for yourself and your family, but also for the people around you?”
While advocating for others to learn, Khalif is pursuing her own education as an Economics major at Harvard University. Besides her education and advocacy, Khalif still finds time for her creative hobbies.
“I’m a nerd!” She laughed through her bold pink lipstick, while admitting she enjoys blogging and writing poetry.
As U.S. Youth Observer, Khalif is looking forward to meeting people from different GenUN chapters and finding out what they are passionate about.
“These institutions like the United Nations exist not for some people, but for all people,” Khalif said. “You don’t really have to look too far to actually realize where you could have an impact.”