March 23, 2018

When youth rise up: how young people are using their voices to bring about change

Student activists from the Florida high school where 17 teens and staff were shot and killed begin a march to the state capital of Tallahassee

On the eve of the March For Our Lives protests over US gun laws, we ask Global Youth Ambassadors why the voice of young people is so important in activism.

When young people rise up, amazing things can happen. With 1.8 billion people aged between 10 and 24, this generation has the opportunity to bring about lasting change.

That was evident in the United States last week, where students walked out of classrooms and called for stricter gun laws in the wake of the Florida school shooting that left 17 students and staff dead.

Brandon Abzug, a 16-year-old survivor of the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, summed up the youth feeling when he said: "We're here to ask for change and we're confident change will happen."

Tomorrow hundreds of thousands of young people are expected to take part in "March For Our Lives" demonstrations in 80 American cities across the United States on Saturday.

Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was among 20 first graders and six teachers killed by a gunman in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, said:”Don't forget, these kids are going to be voting soon. This is really a wave of sea change that we are witnessing.”

Students from the Lumad indigenous people in the Philippines protest about military operations that have affected their education

Photo credit: International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines

There have been many youth-led demonstrations in recent years to protest about attacks on schools across the world. Last year students in Yemen demonstrated against the war that has destroyed hundreds of schools and left two million children with no education.

Youth Advocates for Change marched through the Nigerian capital Abuja in 2015 to protest about Boko Haram’s violent grip on the northeast of the country. In the same year, thousands marched in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde on the same issue.

“It was very important for Cameroonians to come out as a sign of solidarity for the 150,000 internally displaced people, for the 200,000 Nigerian refugees, and the 170 schools that have been closed,” said organiser Guibal Gatama.

Also in 2015, schoolchildren marched through Lahore in Pakistan to show their revulsion at the Taliban’s attack on a school in Peshawar that left 148 students and teachers dead.

The A World at School Global Youth Ambassadors are a network of 700 young people advocating and campaigning for education change around the world.

We asked some of them to tell us why the youth voice is so important in activism.

Sylvia Kakyo (Uganda)

I believe in today's society, youth are capable, educated and opinionated individuals who understand the importance of exercising their opinions. They are the new force behind change. Youth have the capability to give visibility to marginalised groups by letting their voice be heard and changing the world together. It's only through making our voice heard that we need to show that we understand that there are decisions to be made regarding our future and we need to propose ourselves as the people who need to be piloting these decisions. 

Today, young people have changed the narrative through creating and founding non-profit organisations, and getting involved in different projects that allow them to change their environment and take social action. Having a youth voice is important as it gives us a real presence.

Maisha Reza (Singapore)

Youth voices are important because decisions and policies made today will directly affect us as we inherit the future. The youth today are empowered, informed and have the capacity to have our voices heard at the decision making table. Youth and children form about 40% of the world's population and, in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, it is critical to mobilise young people. Involving us is not just the right thing to do but the strategic thing to do.

Ekpokpobe Oghenekeno Joshua (Nigeria)

Youth voice in activism is important as it is instrumental in driving social change, advocating for the rights of women and girls, promoting access to quality healthcare, education and gender equality. Thus, bringing about development in our society.

Javnyuy Joybert (Cameroon)

Until African governments start treating youth as their most important asset, African nations will keep having shallow social, political and economic policies. Youth voice and perspective is critical and every government that wants to build a strong future for her nation must value the importance of the youth voice.

Muhumuza Kenneth (Uganda)

Policies affect the day-to-day life of all young people. The youth voice is therefore important in activism because our problems and our concerns may not be addressed unless we point them out. After all, every decision our elected officials make will either affect us now or in the future. 

I published an open letter to the members of parliament of Uganda. In the letter, I wrote: "I urge you to give young people a chance beyond representation so that they can actively contribute to the future of their country. Currently, you are creating a future you may very well not be here to enjoy. As an example, decisions are being made around oil and renewable energies; but it is today’s young people who are going to be impacted the most by these decisions in the future. When planning for the future, it is imperative to involve the people who are going to be alive in the future. That is not the 70-year olds. Rather, it is the 20 to 30-year-olds."

Naveen Kumar Chaudhary (India)

I believe young people have the highest potential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. But it is only possible when we are given an equal and fair opportunity in every field including sports, education, employment, entrepreneurship or politics.

Young people were among the protesters against the 2015 school attack in Peshawar, Pakistan

Photo credit: EPA

Daniel Stephen (Uganda)

Youth voice is important in activism because solutions or policy made at any decision table, has adverse effect on the youth and the consequences (good or bad) of that decision will be borne by the youth - hence the need to have our voice especially in education.

Fideline Mboringong (Cameroon)

Youth represent a great part of the global population. Young people are creative - bringing up innovative ideas, driving change online and offline that is contributing in transforming societies. Hence, pushing for active participation and not just ceremonial roles for youth in the decision-making processes is extremely pivotal.

Enock Nkuranga (Uganda)

The world is full of young people now, especially in Africa. I am currently in Kigali, Rwanda, and I have been meeting and speaking to different young people. Young people around the world are demanding different things like jobs, an end to conflicts and quality education. The coming of youths with one voice makes leaders in positions of power respond to societal challenges with urgency as well as design policies that are people-centered. Young people in Africa have been demanding an African continental free trade area and free movement of persons.

Daniella Akellot (Uganda)

Youth voice in activism is important because it helps decision-makers develop and implement innovative initiatives that improve access to education for all without leaving anyone behind.

Olowo Omotoke Titilope (Nigeria)

The youth voice is very important in activism. The world youth population is huge, especially in Africa, and as such it rests on the shoulders of young people to begin to change the narrative of how things used to be in their community to how they should actually be. Making everyone a change-maker one step at a time and it also shows our belief - because we believe that the future belongs to us and we must make it a better place for the next generation. We have the strength, the agility and vast skills to effect positive changes we want to see.

Kirthi Jayakumar (India)

In all of its history, the world is youngest at this moment in terms of its population. Consequently, we also represent the largest source of energy that can contribute towards meaningful change by sheer number and volume. Our voice, thus, can be pivotal in focusing on the right things towards creating a sustainable future.

Mobasshera Amin (Egypt)

We have the gift of touching anything and converting it into something beneficial to our family and, ultimately, to society. Our voice should be prioritised and actions be taken on the addressed issues, as we are the ones who are currently facing the challenges while remaining in the field and experiencing a great deal. We outnumber the older generation currently and we have the power to shape the world for tomorrow. This is why our voice should be heard in the global arena and taken into consideration in terms of implementation in the world at a higher level.

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