Helping young people to think about and tackle issues of gender inequality can be challenging. This usually isn't because they're fundamentally opposed to the concept but because in our comparatively privileged society, looking at life from the experiences they've had, it's often hard to see why it's relevant, how it affects them or what they could do to help - despite the fact that they have genuine concern about issues like sexual harassment in the workplace, assault and objectification of women.
But as I found out earlier this year when I spent the first week of March - and International Women's Day - visiting Brazil to talk to young people about their experiences and the pro-equality initiatives they're taking part in, investing in them is something which is vital for impacting communities and changing the way people think.
I was really privileged to be one of three bloggers asked to take a trip to Brazil to visit some of the projects ActionAid are working on there and report on my experiences (in my capacity as a columnist for women's lifestyle website BitchBuzz to engage their younger supporters back in the UK with gender equality issues. The trip was also part of the wider EQUALS? initiative pioneered this year for IWD.
It was a fantastic nine days and a trip that I'll never forget. I spent several days in Rio de Janeiro, doing everything from wandering along Ipanema beach to visiting favelas - the city's notorious slums, donning an excruciatingly heavy costume to take part in the carnival parades at the Sambadrome and getting driven round the City of God favela by a famous rapper. I took seven domestic flights to get to and from a city called Santarém in Amazonia, where I ate lunch at a restaurant overlooking a river that stretched as far as the eye could see with rainforest either side of us, danced in the local carnival and spent an afternoon on a white sandy 'beach' in the middle of a river, watching the sun set and the landscape shimmer in the heat.
To be honest, it sounds like a really great holiday. And it's true - doing all this was so much fun. But the majority of our days were actually taken up with interviewing people, visiting projects and learning a lot about what ActionAid have been doing - and hope to do in future - to promote gender equality in Brazil.
Before the trip I'd wondered how easy it would be to engage readers back home with the issues I was going to be writing about - would they feel like they couldn't relate to something happening on the other side of the world? From that very first day in the favela, however, I realised just how much they would be able to relate, because despite their differences, the young people we talked to had the same thoughts and feelings. We'd ask them which aspects of gender equality concerned them and they'd talk about workplace inequality, about violence against women, about teen pregnancy, objectification of women in magazines and music videos. All of them spoke about how important it is for women to 'know their rights' and understand that they don't have to stay silent and put up with injustice - they spoke of women in their communities who didn't think that leaving a violent husband was an option, or didn't know that they had the same legal rights as men.
I spend a lot of time talking about gender equality with bloggers and activists, but one of the main things about my trip that affected me was the enthusiasm of the people we met and the determination they had to effect change. Residents of the favela who were running evening classes for teens so they could get into university, or cookery classes for women so they could run their own catering business. Members of a youth group in Santarém who visited local schools, putting on presentations about gender stereotyping and sexual violence and who had worked with local agencies to set up a system of helplines and organisations to tackle abuse. Young men who were as proud to say as their female friends that they firmly believe in equality, that they teach their friends about sexual health and speak out about domestic violence.
These were all great examples of everyone pulling together to impact their local community, united in their desire to see change and young men and women working side by side and with respect for each other. And as I sat in my hotel room on International Women's Day, looking at the reactions across the world to the various campaigns and celebrations going on, I thought about how the people I'd met and the stories I'd heard that week had really underlined, for me, why gender equality is my 'thing' and why I feel it's so important for everyone. About tackling the injustices against women but also about stamping out the messages people receive from the media, culture and society which limit both genders and stop them from being the person they were created to be.
Hannah Mudge lives in Peterborough, works in publishing and is passionate about gender equality in the church, in society and the wider world. She blogs at We Mixed Our Drinks, http://www.ontoberlin.blogspot.com and tweets as @boudledidge
Photo credit: View of Complexo da Maré, the complex of favelas we visited in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Eduardo Martino / Documentography / ActionAid