Youth participation is a fundamental right.
Increasingly we see the inclusion of young people in institutional and decision-making processes. For example, Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen appointed a Youth Advisor and a Youth Sounding Board for the Directorate-General International Partnerships, after great encouragement of Plan International. Although it is a great success that youth participation is more and more seen as a necessary part for sustainable and inclusive policy, unfortunately, it is not always done in a meaningful manner.
This was illustrated during the Generation Equality Forum, which committed itself to including young people but fell short of achieving it. Youth activists were invited to participate and share their voices which was supposed to make the forum a truly intergenerational event. Yes, the young people clearly voiced their experiences and demands to all participants. However, while the opening ceremony involved some great young people, this is where their participation ended!
As Young Feminist Europe reported, many young participants were flown home right after the opening ceremony and therefore had to cancel their participation in other events of the Forum. Additionally, many young people could not access the online platform. A lot of young people felt like their participation was pure tokenism, merely for a nice photo-op during the opening ceremony. Meaningful participation during the Forum was clearly not a priority.
Involving youth is not just a tick box activity, it requires a genuine investment. This means ensuring the wellbeing and protection from harm for girls and young women. In other words, they need inclusive and gender-transformative safeguarding. Plan International has strict gender-transformative guidelines around the safeguarding of youth, knowing that adolescent girls might need different safeguarding than adolescent boys. And rightfully so, as such a process requires thinking about the needs, wishes, and goals of the young person involved throughout the entire process, as well as understanding the inherent risks in processes involving youth. Our safeguarding process is at the heart of our work, and we are proud to see that increasingly more organisations are taking up our safeguarding policies. An example of this is the European Week for Action for Girls (EWAG), organised around the International Day of the Girl Child. We advocate that girls and young women must lead and play a vital part in shaping the events that they participate in. Plan International’s safeguarding principles are essential to make sure that young people are meaningfully engaged and that it is about them, their lives, experiences, skills and their views, not ours.
Youth participation fosters necessary interactions between different generations. Intergenerational dialogues are a great way for different generations to share their views and experiences. Where young generations can learn from the progress that the generations before them made, older generations can learn from the new battles that younger people are facing and jointly think of ways to challenge them. As such, intergenerational dialogues are learning processes between generations. With this in mind, the Head of the EU Office and EU Representative of Plan International, Serap Altinisik engages in a dialogue with her colleague Charlotte van Braam, the Personal Assistant to the Head of Office, both from a different generation, to reflect on female youth participation in the current political climate.
Serap: What do you appreciate with regards to girls and women leading?
Charlotte: What really inspires me about young female leaders and activists is that they refuse to be held back by the barriers of the system. They acknowledge the limits of the systems that exist now but can look beyond and present their unconstrained visions for a better world. They manage to transform practices of discrimination into an appreciation of diversity. Instead of allowing identities to be used as a factor for discrimination, I see many young people embrace the multifaced aspects of their identities and see this as a strength, and as different elements that can contribute in their own unique way. We truly embrace intersectionality. I believe this is a great source of power from my generation.
Serap: Why do you think intergenerational dialogues are needed and what do you expect from the different generations?
Charlotte: I am thankful for the previous generations that have paved the way. We might sometimes forget that despite that the world still has a long way to go, it used to be much worse. Therefore, I think it is really important to acknowledge that different generations have different starting points. The liberties that I have now, I have them because the previous generations fought for them. Issues that were once a great struggle for one generation, are now a normality for my generation.
The other side of the coin is that because of this, we also have different needs and visions of the world that lead to a different sense of urgency. For example, the majority of young people see the climate crisis as one of the biggest threats for their futures, while also having to face that the current leadership is failing to respond with the same urgency. The recently published IPCC report shows that the current political leadership is the last generation of leaders that can challenge the otherwise irreversible effects of the climate crisis. My generation cannot wait until we have climbed up to leadership positions to invoke this change ourselves: we simply do not have the luxury of time. This is why including youth in decision-making is so important. Accordingly, I expect that the generations in power must foster an environment where youth participation and leadership are at the core of decision-making. We cannot allow this to be tokenism, it must instead be done on equal footing and in a matter that is meaningful to us.
Charlotte: What is your view on ensuring that young people are included where decisions are made about them
Serap: This requires a creative approach to involving youth. For example, intergenerational co-leadership is a great and innovative approach to include more youth in decision-making. Fundamentally, feminist leadership is the way forward. Through this, each person is enabled to be the best version of themselves because feminist leadership is about connecting people rather than ranking them. Ultimately, it fosters inclusive decision-making, because it leads to an open attitude to appreciate people´s different skillsets and backgrounds, whether it is from the perspective of their age, gender, race, disability or other intersections. Moreover, even though many inequalities are universal, intergenerational co-leaderships takes into account that contexts differ. All these aspects of feminist leadership make sure that decisions are made by those affected by them.
Serap: How do you view the inclusion and participation of youth in the current political climate in this context?
Charlotte: I am not surprised by the increased call for the inclusion of youth, and how many fantastic youth activists are taking the space, whether it is offered to them or not. I strongly feel that my generation refuses to accept the systems in place that are discriminating and disempowering. Considering all the progress that the previous generations made, we do not accept any excuse for our exclusion. And this sentiment is getting stronger: the pandemic sadly has a destructive effect but we also see the opportunity to build a new system. More than ever the inequalities and injustices that ingrained in our systems are visible, and they must be challenged.
When we see movement to build back instead of using this opportunity to build new and better systems, we feel like there is nothing we can do but stand up and fight. Now is the time to change for the better. No more decisions about us without us!