Youth have often been the source of change in our communities, both before and during the pandemic. However, there are few spaces of power and decision-making where our voices can be heard. This year, Equitas’ annual #EquiTalks events will center on the theme of “Youth, Power and the Pandemic” with Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth as the keynote speaker. During the EquiTalks, Jayathma will discuss how, as youth, we are redefining social justice movements, as well as how we are mobilizing to strengthen human rights movements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why the Focuses on Youth?
The contribution of youth is crucial to creating more inclusive and egalitarian societies. Decision-makers have an important responsibility to amplify youth voices and, to create or encourage the creation of spaces for us to participate in important discussions and to take part in decision making. Communities need our innovative ideas, our commitment to social justice, and our ability to bring about the change that is needed in our societies.
This is what Equitas wants to emphasize with this edition of our annual EquiTalks, but it is also what we offer to young people throughout the year through our human rights education programs around the world. The Rawabet program in the Middle East and North Africa region focuses on building the capacity of youth to promote respect for human rights for all. Through the Speaking Rights program in Canada, Equitas supports youth-led Community Action Projects (CAPs) that enable them to find creative solutions to issues in their communities that they themselves have identified and create positive change. An example of this type of project is the CAP led by YWCA Quebec and École St-Jean-Baptiste in Quebec City, where youth decided to take action on the issue of houselessness, a situation that affects people in vulnerable positions and a crisis that the pandemic has exacerbated. The youth who led this CAP proposed and carried out a number of initiatives, ranging from awareness-raising projects like the “Night of the Homeless” (Nuit des sans-abris) video that they produced and shared on social media, to direct community actions, such as preparing sandwiches to be stored in a shared refrigerator.
Outraged at the armrests deliberately placed on outdoor benches in order to prevent unhoused folks from sleeping on them, a few young people from the initiative got together and wrote an open letter condemning the policy that ended up being published in Le Soleil. When young people are given the space and encouragement to become leaders in our communities, there is no limit to our potential in making our communities more equitable and inclusive.
Did this story inspire you? Join the conversation around youth leadership by joining young people who are creating change this Tuesday, April 27 during the EquiTalks event. Register here.
Changing the Rhetoric Surrounding Youth and the Pandemic
In April 2020, Jayathma gave a speech at the United Nations highlighting the incredible ways in which young people have demonstrated leadership during the pandemic – from young peacebuilders in Kenya and Cameroon who adapted peacebuilding networks to help communities cope with the health crisis, to the millions of young healthcare workers around the world who are providing life-saving care, young people around the world are demonstrating leadership and resilience in times of crisis.
Creating spaces in civic and political life that foster youth participation is central to Jayathma’s mission. Youth have always been key players in mobilizing and organizing at the community level in response to issues affecting their societies.