On the 70th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, the importance of enabling the younger generation to continue to fight for these rights has never been more important.
It is pretty clear that every generation negatively judges the generation after them. And this is certainly true concerning the ‘kids these days’. There are many words used to describe today’s young people in the media, and most of them are not particularly positive. But is ‘activist’ one of the words that can be used?
And with today being Human Rights Day, in a global context of both awareness of atrocities and increased political instability at home, this question is more important than ever.
It has been 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created. Created post World War Two, this effort the defines our basic and inalienable rights to existence, covering everything from political and economic to social and cultural rights to emphasise our shared humanity. And while this was an incredible achievement, this was no means the end. The last 70 years have shown that as time goes on, rights are something that is challenged and have to be fought for.
And that’s where young people come in. While activism is not just confined to young people – and at the risk of generalisation – they hold a unique position of being new to struggle and therefore able to challenge established beliefs.
However, especially when looking at a UK specific context, also unique combination negative labels as a-political and disenfranchised and due to the rise of social media arguably most aware generation of global challenges (insert fact) and more opportunities for widespread communication, with the #MeToo movement only one example of what can be achieved. A UNICEF 2007 report ‘Different World’, although published over ten years ago still concisely summarises today’s problem by citing that young people “do want to be listened to and to shape the world” but “too many negative attributes have been attached to young people”.
It is easy to feel powerless with so much information available online and a constant influx of news making it almost impossible to know where to begin – in 2014 a Sky News Survation Poll “Stand up and Be Counted” 88% of young people feel voice is being unheard in society.
While there are too many ways to solve to write here, it becomes the role of charities and social impact organisations to raise awareness of human rights issues and give young people the tools to help fight for rights in new, positive and empowering ways.
So, which organisations out there are already doing this?
Focusing on a younger demographic and ranging across the country is UNICEF’s OutRight campaign. Aimed at children and young people at school it is cited as a campaign for children, by children. Empowering them to speak out in support of children’s rights in UK and around the world as set out by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, this programme is mainly based around World Children’s day on the 20th November, but with activities carry on into February. This year focused on air pollution and protecting children’s right to health and a safe, clean environment, producing two different programmes targeted at different age groups. And by covering an introduction to campaigning and activism, provoking discussion and providing the chance for young people to engage in practical action such as writing to ministers, this programme is a brilliant way of getting children directly involved and impressing need to question and stand up for rights early on.
Alternately, there are organisations focused on older participants and intense training like the Camden-based Advocacy Academy. Targeting older young people going into Year 12 or 13 in South London, this intense 6-month programme has a more specific focus on developing young leaders from marginalised communities to develop personally and take on the big rights challenges of the 21st century. The umbrella term of ‘advocacy’ is used effectively here to cover grassroots organising, direct action and lobbying, with the goal of encouraging participants to lead campaigns in their own community and even deliver a speech to their Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. And while this is a more exclusive example, both this and OutRight highlight the importance of introducing practical knowledge, skills and ability to critically think to help young people from an early age recognise and fight for their rights and for those around the world.
Now more than ever we need to empower young people. They have the motivation – it is the role of the charity sector to provide them with the hands-on knowledge and skills enable them to succeed and #StandUp4HumanRights
Words by Lauren Hurrell, Creative Communications Graduate Trainee at Spotlight.