Moves Like Malala – Mobilising Youth Activists
Written by Laura Newlyn, Amnesty Speaker Programme Volunteer
Just last week, I stood among a thousand others in reverent silence on Trafalgar Square. I listened with heart-wrenching awe as Malala Yousafzai, Generation Z poster-child, delivered an ennobling tribute to MP Jo Cox. She left us with a wonderful sound bite which, although removed from its original context, can be reframed to empower children and young people of today and of the future:
“...you can be small and still be a giant.”
Photo credit: Anthony M Kelly
Malala is, in this sense, a giant herself. It's been nearly eight years since she took her first documented steps into activism by voicing her right to an education. A BBC blog, a book and a Nobel Peace Prize later – to name but a few accomplishments – Malala celebrates her birthday on 12 July. And she will be ‘only’ 19 years old.
Is Malala the exception that proves the rule?
I can’t help but feel that the latest generation of young people get a particularly bad rap just for being born around or after the turn of the century. I’m sure I’m not alone in casually accusing the younger generation of being disengaged from the ‘real world’ in favour of Instagram. Or Snapchat. Or a whole host of social platforms of which I’m clearly not cool enough to have heard.
Are we all guilty of making such presumptions about young people? Surely, as children, tweenagers and teenagers of any era (I, myself, sit uncomfortably between the cusp of Gen X and Y) weren’t we all tarred with that same brush?
And yet, as adults, do we perpetuate this generational divide? On the dissenting end of the scale, are the alleged ASBO-sporting 'trouble-makers'. Somewhere in the middle, you’ll find those accused of political apathy. In the most glowing terms, young people are labelled with pride as 'leaders of the future'…
Children and young people want and need their voices heard now
This last week gives substantial leverage to the argument that young people, deemed illegible to have a say in their own future – that is, whether their future is in the EU or not – are entitled to be engaged, to be inspired and to be inspiring.
Here are some ideas to support them in getting started:
- Bite the Ballot aims to lay foundations for every 16-year-old in Britain to habitually engage in politics and bring about change by 2020. 'The Basics' gets those first building blocks in place.
- The Citizenship Foundation aims to engage young people in society as equal members. A plethora of resources on a wide range of subjects are conveniently divided into key stages. It may be worth having a look at the Act Global Toolkit (Think. Talk. Act.) which suggests a pathway from classroom to community.
- Youth for Change is a great example of an organisation run by young people for young people. As an international network of youth activists, they develop partnerships with governments and NGOs to combat gender-based violence. Their advocacy toolkits enable youth activists worldwide to do the same.
- The Parliament Education Service claims to 'inform', 'engage' and 'empower'. Their teaching resources aim to connect young people to parliament. (My own guilty pleasure is the Campaign Game!) They also offer tours and workshops at their new Education Centre in Westminster.
- And finally, no blog about mobilising youth activists would be complete without highlighting the power of Amnesty Youth Groups. Here, young activists use their voice, their ideas, their energy and their efforts to promote the causes in which they believe. Young activists develop their skills now and make a difference today. They mould their community and shape the progress of the world in which they live.
Teachers cut of the film I Talk Out Loud
Inspire your students with the full version of I Talk Out Loud.
Empower young leaders today
We don’t need to dictate to young people about what's going on in the world. The information is already in their hands – quite literally. Perhaps, if we actually listen to their ideas and their opinions, we will learn a thing or two ourselves. Perhaps we only need to point them in the right direction. Perhaps if we support their journey, our ‘leaders of tomorrow’ will be leaders today.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.