This International Youth Day, Oxfam is supporting youth activists from all over the world to campaign on inequality issues at the World Social Forum 2016 in Montreal. Below, six youth leaders from Oxfam’s My Rights, My Voice (MRMV) programme talk about their experiences of lobbying on rights to health and education services.With their energy, skills and creativity, young people in the Global South have the potential to be the driving force for social change, strong economies and vibrant democracies. There are 1.2 billion people between the ages of 15-24 worldwide, making this the largest youth population the world has ever seen. 90% of these live in low-income countries, where Oxfam works directly with youth leaders and change-makers to facilitate youth-led development and support young people to campaign for their rights.
Mina, Ousmane, Sofia, Osman, Thuy and Aisha have worked with Oxfam to bring change to their communities and their countries through the MRMV programme. Here, they share with us their experiences of supporting their peers to claim their rights, forging alliances with local and national actors, and advocating for policy change in health, education and sexual and reproductive health (SRH).
Before MRMV, I thought I was too young to do anything. But now I know that we can also do many things. We have met ministers and political parties to form child and youth policies. We have raised awareness about child marriage and violence against women through community interaction. Now, duty-bearers are more accountable towards the public and we have better relationships with all community members.
Young people can be key actors in bringing about social change; that’s why it is important to give us space. Now my plan is to work for my community to make it a better place.
MRMV empowers young people. We have led huge social mobilisation campaigns and lobbied politicians on the improvement of young people’s education and SRH. Now I know that if young people want change, they can achieve it.
We have become real leaders of Malian civil society. Young people are a source of energy, innovation and activism, and that’s what’s needed to bring about fast and sustainable change. I hope that young people will continue to campaign for a better Mali, a better Africa and a better world; a world in which every citizen has access to basic social services.
In Niger, SRH is a difficult topic for young people to discuss openly. Through MRMV, I’ve been able to discuss these issues, and today I can talk about anything in front of lots of people. If someone in my community needs a girl with knowledge of education and SRH rights, they will call on me. Young people are tomorrow’s future.
So it’s up to young people to drive the change process. MRMV has created a dynamic which will allow us to change the destiny of our communities. We will carry on the fight. Rights aren’t just given; we have to grab them through struggle, determination and responsibility.
Before MRMV, I could not advocate for my rights, but after getting involved I campaigned in my school for the first time. Now I am able to raise my voice, and the people in my village trust me as an activist who thinks about his community. Young people are the foundation of society. They are talented and have energy and enthusiasm, so they should have the opportunity to participate in decision-making.
Now, duty-bearers listen to us and our suggestions. If community members have a problem, they ask us to advocate for them. Young people are working together for their community with one powerful voice.
Before participating in MRMV, there was discrimination among ethnic groups in my school. We shared these problems with our teachers, and now there are articles on non-discrimination in our school regulations. We also raised concerns about hygiene with the local authorities, and the toilets in our school were upgraded to improve sanitation. In the past, we were very shy.
We wanted to share our thoughts and ideas but we didn’t have the courage to do it. Now, we know how to express our opinions and deal with our problems by ourselves, because we are more confident, knowledgeable and capable.
In my area, young people can’t discuss SRH with their parents, and they don’t have access to information. Through MRMV, I attended training and I have used every available opportunity to express my opinion about SRH rights. I have seen that parents are now ready to discuss these issues with their children. In every society, young people are change agents.
We have energy, zeal and enthusiasm, and can influence others; that’s why we have to be given the space to talk, share and learn. MRMV has helped young people to have a voice. It has raised our consciousness and supported us to engage people on the issues that affect us most.