Serena Jemmett has over 5 years experience with Amnesty International, as a member of a school group, our Youth Advisory Group and our Children's Human Rights Network committee. In these roles and others, and during this time, Serena has also worked with countless other organisations as a Child Human Rights Defender.
Serena's experience - of Amnesty and other groups - is that we don't always get it right. Sometimes, we don't even get close.
After turning 18, Serena produced the below toolkit as a guide to help Amnesty, other organisations - and adults as a whole - to do better.
toolkit on youth activism - how to work with young people
- Youth spaces should be created by young people. Engaged young people should be given the tools, training and assistance to make the spaces and run the spaces
- Inclusive spaces for young people shouldn’t be adult spaces “allowing” children in, they should be made with the intention of being inclusive to young people
- Young people should and must be at the forefront, not a last minute thought
- Staff and adults need training on how to interact with young people (not to be patronising or disengaging or disempowering etc)
- Adult allies are important and needed to establish a change in dynamic from the traditional adult-only run organisations
- Young people are not less qualified than adults and shouldn't be treated as inferior, we deserve the same respect. Our voices are as equal, powerful and loud as adult activists - also point 9.
- We have proven our capability of being leaders and activists and should be trusted - evidence: fridays for future
- Age and experience of membership or involvement with a cause or organisation does not make your opinion more valid. Two people could both have joined an organisation at 14, where one is now 30 and the other 18, meaning one has 4 years or service and the other 16. The 30 year old should be rewarded in terms of authority purely because they are older and have been around longer. It is pointless to champion this concept and it is patronising to not only younger people but also adults who have recently become engaged - it actually disengages people. Once again the additional years do not make your experiences more valid or superior to those experiences of younger people. AGE DOES NOT EQUAL SUPERIORITY.
- Youth participation spaces need to be accessible and if not alternatives need to be set up. Key examples being conferences or panels when children cannot drive. Alternate travel options should be in place or discounted tickets. Most young people are in full time education and have no job/ money supply but also are already having to juggle spending their time on work and activism.
- Young activists often face burnout because they feel the need to take every opportunity to prove themselves. They shouldn't feel the need to constantly be available to do everything staff ask - it's damaging to their mental health and unsustainable. As much as I hate to say it, it is difficult to balance school work and activism but there are points e.g. around exam seasons where school work must be the priority.
- The attitude from adults that youth and student activists are ‘only temporary’ is unhelpful and unproductive - this needs to be addressed immediately. All young people give a significant amount of their time, skills and resources which 1 should not be unappreciated and 2 would continue into adulthood if youth activists didn't feel unengaged or undervalued.
- Have young people present in every stage
- Not just the end or feedback - involve them in strategy, comms, media, campaigning etc
- When receiving feedback from young people, act upon it and let them know what you are doing about it - it gives them hope and validation that you are actually listening - otherwise it’s disempowering
- Don't use safeguarding against young people or as an excuse to not include young people
- We consider lots more people young than are children. When we look to include young people, often we exclude children because of the additional safeguarding demands compared with young adults. Consider that this excludes the voice of children, devalues their work, and denies their specific lived experience.
- Everyone should have safeguarding measures in place regardless of age
- It should be seen as the norm to do various paperwork to include young people, and most definitely do not make a young person feel bad because there needs to be more safeguarding measures in place
- To be honest extra safeguarding measures doesn't hurt anyone and yes it is a bit time consuming and a bit of effort but safeguarding is important for all so it helps everyone
- This adds onto adults not being exclusive and elitist and superior - which in itself is self-explanatory
- Safeguarding work tends to be seen as a chore, setting up the attitude towards it to be negative, when in fact safeguarding opens up the organisation to be more approachable and safe, encouraging and engaging new activists which is positive. More youth engagement will not come without good safeguarding practices.
- Do not - and I cannot stress this enough - DO NOT make the issues and time consuming nature of safeguarding work known to children. DO NOT make children feel GUILTY for their engagement. I have experienced this myself and i didn't know how to react, do I apologise for being an active and engaged youth activist?
- There are 6 principles of safeguarding as defined by the Care Act 2014, one of which is empowerment. Currently unfortunately a lot of safeguarding is disempowering. For example having different coloured name labels because you are under 18 is disempowering, you are standing out in a negative way and its unnecessary- you wouldn't ask over 60s to, so question the purpose of singling children out.
- Safeguarding is aimed to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults, but who is vulnerable? What is vulnerable? Everybody is vulnerable at certain points in their life. No one walks around with a badge saying "i'm vulnerable right now" - why do we think it is appropriate to badge children? Mental health is invisible compared to a physical injury. When a child turns 18 they don't suddenly become able to cope with everything. Safeguarding should be for everyone and make all situations available and accessible to everybody. The concept that it is only for a certain few people is damaging.
- Diversity and inclusivity are amazing things - we need a diverse range of gender, race, sexualtiy - age should also included
- Representation - if no young people are representing the organisation at a high level it projects to all young activists that their work is not as valued or as important as adults
- Intersectionality - it’s not enough to consider diversity in isolation. Youth is not homogenous, and a youth contingent should be gender, ethically, and ability diverse - and other contingents should have a broad age profile.
- Make human rights more relevant in the day to day- relevant to life experiences, understanding why they are necessary, why everyone is subject to violations regardless of who they are or where they live.
- Use your influence and privilege to help smaller campaigns and amplify their work behind the scenes - so important to not take over but to work with them and help
- Same concept with young people - don't take over or repeat what they say - just pass the mic
- Don’t tone down the importance of human rights - use the rights themselves - be controversial, state the factors, a human rights violation is a human right violation end of;
- Don't tone down the scale or importance to make it “child friendly”
- Having said this - make sure human rights stuff is accessible for young people - so use more simplistic language etc - but this should all be decided with the help of young people to ensure it is not patronising etc
- Amplify youth activism on social media
- Examples of youthstrike4cliamte, vice and dazed
- Social media is huge so it's vital to make the most of it and reach a large audience
- Give activists the ability to run their own campaigns so they don't rely on the central body - need to be able to do it without constantly having to wait on staff (who are likely working on other campaigns|)
- Children are just as valid as any other group.
- Their opinions, viewpoint, concerns, anger and sense of morality is of equal value as to an adult’s.
- Children are entitled to their rights, they don't need to earn it, prove it or be given access to their rights, they are already entitled to them, so act like it.
- Don’t assume you are doing what’s best without asking children themselves- like i said in the opening of the un crc conference the best interests of the child must be defined by children. (Watch here)
- Don't assume children don't understand or are naive. Their experiences should not be devalued purely because there are less of them. An experience is an experience, end of. No adult has the same life experiences as other adults, everyone is different, which as I said above is an amazing thing. Additional experiences do not validate an adult's opinion more, being 60 doesn’t give your opinion more authority than a 30 year old, so being 30 shouldn't give you more than a 13 year old.
- A child may be ‘naive’ or an adult may be cynical. A child may be ‘innocent’ or an adult may be defeated. We must look at a viewpoint from both perspectives.
Conclusion: you just need to genuinely and actually respect children, don't talk down on them, don’t hide or keep so-called ‘difficult decisions’ from them- be transparent and open. Everyone's opinion is just as valid as each other's, no matter their age - people may express their opinion in a different way as well - but that does not devalue it. Now you have no excuses for not engaging or involving children so go and include them.
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.