Young people make up an ever-growing portion of the world’s population. As of 2014, the number of youth, ages 10-24, rose to nearly 1.8 billion, or slightly less than 25 percent of the world population. As youth compose a greater share of the population, questions emerge about the role youth will play in addressing the issues relevant to their future. Empowering youth to engage and take an active role in advocacy can play a critical role in societal change and improving human rights. Thus, organizations increasingly seek new ways to engage youth in civil society.
New Tactics in Human Rights through its online conversation, The Voice of Youth: How Youth Can Take on a Critical Role in Human Rights Advocacy, discusses ways how youth are involved in social change, address the challenges to their interests and the role of human rights organizations and practitioners in empowering youth.
Tactical Examples Shared to engage Youth
- Developing leadership skills for young people internationally - Generation Change.
- Engaging existing young leaders who are already creating impact within their communities and provide them with leadership, conflict resolution skills, and a supportive network.
- Minneapolis Chapter of the Red Cross’s simulation exercise (RAIDcross) to teach youth about International Humanitarian Law.
- Mentorship and networking opportunities.
- Peer mentoring
- In the Ashanti Region of Ghana, the Obuasi youth parliament was set up to deliberate on issues affecting them in the region and to make the necessary recommendations to the local government which has a representative in the youth parliament.
- The involvement of youth in the consultation processes of individual Municipal and regional development strategies.
- Youth Consultation Centers.
- Peer participation.
- Social media tools.
- Youth Clubs.
- Youth Advisory Councils
- Youth Programs - Breakthrough Twin Cities and Youthprise
- Youth projects (Youth for Change: Engagement of Youth for Social Change in Sindh Pakistan by Human Rights Alliance HRA Pakistan).
- Global/Local Service-Learning.
- Youth grants.
- Youth philanthropy:
- The Arts
- Summer leadership program, GATE, incorporated various activities using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and arts.( www.worldasitcouldbe.org)
- Sports - http://www.ethiopiaskate.org/
- Support from organizations like People to People International (PTPI).
- Annual global youth forums.
- Cultural fairs.
- Human rights initiatives:
- “My rights” in Sohag, Egypt - aimed to raise awareness about the rights of young people and to promote the participation of young women in community life.
- “My Rights as a Human - Respecting Diversity and Accepting Others” in Aswan, Egypt was to address the issue of intolerance that exists between the different ethnic groups in the area.
- "My Awareness will Ensure my Development” in Asyut, Egypt aimed to promote and increase youth participation in political processes.
- Youth leaders conduct literacy classes for children 6 to 8 years old in 6 different schools in East Amman area “Astour”, Jordan.
- “Madaba Through the Eyes of its Young People” aims to promote and increase youth participation in public life in Madaba, Jordan.
- Human rights education tool designed for civil society organizations (CSOs), youth leaders and organizations working with youth on issues of human rights and democratic participation in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan.
- Summer residential programs - Global Action Through Engagement (GATE).
- “Spectrum of allies” tool to engage youth in thinking about the individuals and groups that they may influence to try to shift an issue that they care about.
- Youth participation in local politics:
- In Albania, youth were involved in drafting Youth Priorities and preparing a Social Contract for local government, allowing youth to influence local politics.
- In Maroua, university students and other youth participated in citizen consultations, human rights clubs, planned local budgets and participated in conferences, all working towards influencing local politics.
- Online platforms
- Youth participation in decision-making in local organizations and projects:
- In the Association for the Development of the Koumantou Commune, youth were given the same responsibilities as adults, so that their voice could hold weight.
- Sela foundation where youth are involved in deciding the strategic directions of the organization – allowing for ownership and responsibility with commitment.
- Radio programs:
- In the Young Reporters Network in Moshi-Tanzania, youth were involved in decision making in all levels of the process, beginning by identifying issues, researching, planning, delivering and evaluating radio programs.
- In Senegal, in the Clubs Radios Citoyennes (CRC), youth were given the opportunity, through radio programs, to discuss issues important to them with local leaders, ensuring that their voices are heard.
- Participation of young women : Young women, Young Leaders (YWYL) is an Equitas program that aims to strengthen the participation of young women in civic, political and community life in Montreal.
- Addressing youth participation in international human rights training programs as was done by Equitas in 2014 where a session entitled Barriers to Youth Participation involved participants from 50 different countries to discuss the barriers youth face to participate in decision-making and strategies to address them.
- Engaging marginalized youth
Foundations of Youth Engagement
The United Nations for statistical purposes defines ‘youth’ as those persons between the ages of 15 to 24, without prejudice to other definitions by Member States. Participants have put forward three principal elements that should be taken into consideration when aiming to strengthen youth participation: capacity, motivation and opportunity. Capacity includes the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that youth need in order to participate effectively. Motivation is the desire or willingness of individual youth to participate, and possibly to commit to involvement or action over the longer term. Opportunity refers to any situation where youth can participate effectively.
It is important to facilitate true youth driven actions. Tools like Global/Local Service-Learning, grants and organizations like People To People International (PTPI) having youth forums encourage youth engagement. By including youth in the decision making processes, empowering them to have a voice, and leveraging their creativity and energy, will provide change for the better.
Fostering Transformative Relationships between Peers, Mentors and Leaders
To maintain youth engagement, peer mentoring partnerships are encouraged. By sharing difficulties with persons who face the same struggles, allows participants to recognize that they are not alone and to learn from each other’s experiences. Having experienced mentors are important as mentors can open doors to opportunities, give crucial guidance about career decisions, and provide valuable insight.
A youth advisory council, youth philanthropy, and creating touch-points for those who had attended youth programs together has also been recommended. Key factors that influence the level of youth participation are a sense of belonging, a sense of safety and a welcoming environment, the opportunity to play an active role, having a goal/responsibility, activities, accessibility, consistent meetings, and other incentives.
Developing Leadership and Empowerment Among Youth
Apart from programs offering "hard skills" such as organizational management, social media marketing, social entrepreneurship, and finance management, offering training in "soft skills" such as communication skills, managing difficult conversations and interpersonal conflict are just as important. Organizations have to develop and design youth projects and programs by defining youth's ownership and responsibility. By giving them ownership and responsibility, this would motivate youth to actively engage and to make an impact in the decision making process.
Barriers to Youth Engagement and Moving Beyond them
The known barriers are the feeling of hopelessness, a lack of feeling trusted with learning about and understanding “real life” issues, apathy among adults, lack of knowledge on how to advocate and affect change, sustaining momentum and membership are some of the barriers to youth engagement that were discussed by the participants to the conversation.
Social media like Twitter and Facebook can be utilized to bring youth’s awareness and engagement with social causes. It is important for youth to be empowered with education and training to build their self-esteem and ensuring that their decisions are important and their ideas taken seriously to overcome the barriers. For successful youth involvement, it is important to involve their families and traditional and religious leaders in the process.
Creating Spaces for Creativity in Youth Activism
Digital space is very useful to youth as a means of communication, to take action, and to provide visibility to youth’s work. It is important to empower youths to create their own space while providing tools to support the process. Several methods to foster creativity and critical thinking were discussed by the participants to the conversation such as simulation exercises and reflection activities.
A Ladder of Citizen Participation
1 UNFPA. State of World Population 2014: The Power of 1.8 Billion. New York, NY: United Nations Publication, 2014. UNFPA. Web. <http://www.unfpa.org/swop>.
Photo Credit: Pasu Au Yeung (License)