Pondering for the reason why ‘youth’ remains one of the most complex term in human experience is because you can never really put your finger on it. Categorizing people by age is the most obvious demarcation that sets the young apart from their adult counterpart. The young aged between 15 and 24 have been classically defined as youth at the global stage, in line with the official UN definition, paving the way for specific policy designs and implementation based on the understanding that specific needs arising from this segment of the population beg for specific solutions. As a global society, we are weakening the power of the youth by treating them as a separate, “human-becoming” category. As a result, young people’s respect could never be earned, their true potential could never be realized and their voice could never be taken seriously.
Established personas and perceptions around youth already exist, which can be reduced to a characteristic that someone is simply chronologically young. Some of the common amplifiers you most likely have seen in the youth word clouds of labels associated with youth may include ‘youthful’, ‘idealistic’, ‘energetic’, ‘creative’ – and even less positive ones – ‘inexperienced’, ‘immature’, ‘violent’ or ‘troublemakers’.
Are these word clouds doing any good or are they in fact still relevant?
Take ‘Safe Spaces of Youth’ as this year’s theme for International Youth Day for example. The presence of ‘safe spaces’ has been understood as an environment in which people individually or collectively can identify themselves, conduct activities or exercise their rights without fear of reprisal, whether online of offline. It must be noted that there are specific risks associated with being age15 or 24, which is mainly due to the fluid intersecting identities developed during this stage; the perceived fear of persecution and actual punishment received, which is not unique to young people.
If you look at the previous themes of the youth day, you will soon realize that they do not necessarily have a specific relevance restricted to young people. The different focus on peace building (2016), mental health (2014), migration (2013) were there not because they are unique to young people, but rather they are part of different global priorities that affect young people in similar ways as they affect those above the age of 24, women, refugees, migrants, politicians and domestic workers. One might say that the challenges facing the youth of today really mirror the broader, seismic shifts in the social, political, and economic climate of the world.
At the foundational level there appear to be more similarities, than differences, between young people and adults. The International Youth Day in turn conveniently creates the youth bubble that further distances them from the rest of the population. Tens of thousands of events were organized around the world by young people to commemorate the occasion. A highlight among the events, 100 young people organized a bicycle rally and public speaking in Kushtia district, South-west of Bangladesh on the occasion. The objective of the rally was ultimately to raise their voice against state violation of social-safety related issues. Events such as this are necessary and can be an effective tool for certain political environments. However, when an issue is campaigned on youth day, it is all too often perceived as a ‘youth problem’, coming to no surprise that this is when those word clouds come in handy. While making the case for safe spaces is needed, the struggle is not specific to young people. These mentioned Bangladeshi youth are in fact part of a local organization called ALO, mandated to promote participatory democracy and social cohesion—the issues that concern us all. In the end, the International Youth Day designated by the United Nations in 1999 may seem noble as an effective symbolism and good political gesture, but in reality, it serves no practical purpose for young people.
In fact, the situation of many young people, particularly in certain geographies, represent rather different set of word clouds due to the different realities that have evolved around them.
At the end of 2017, 628 million young people (aged 15-24 years old) were not in education or in employment. Almost 90% of this number lived in developing countries, and 40% of these are three times more likely to be in a more vulnerable form of employment than adults. These are young people who have to struggle daily, who would need to do the last menial tasks available to make ends meet and often find themselves in self-employment or involuntary part-time jobs, with little or no access to social protection, and high levels of job insecurity. For the great majority of young people in Palestine, Kosovo, South Africa, most parts of Africa and a large segment of Europe, their current word clouds are likely to consist ‘unemployed’, ‘hopeless’, ‘unprotected’, ‘economically frustrated’, ‘precarious’ and ‘informal’. Although they may be part of the same digital natives, the traditional ‘youthful’ filters do not necessarily reflect this segment of youth population.
This simplistic categorization of youth which have been perpetuated both by mass media and political discourse no longer represents the global youth today. The stereotypical traits do not offer a full look of what it is like to be a young person in today’s world. Indeed, a broader definition of today’s youth as ‘youthless’ may be closer to the truth. Youthlessness has become a global phenomenon caused by the increasing economic inequality and political instability. Many young people – in similar ways as adults in both developing and developed economies – increasingly experience fear of uncertainty and the knock-on effect caused by the lack of access to opportunity, basic income and social protection.
Ultimately, the growing state of youthlessness reminds us that this global cohort needs not be treated as an age group against another. In essence, International Youth Day should not be an awareness day that raises an awareness of youth as their own grouping who are purportedly fighting their own battle. There is no benefit in claiming that certain situations or struggles are specific to young people when they are experienced by the rest of population as well. It may seem convenient to frame certain issues as “youth issues” when what this does is actually separating and demeaning young people from the bigger crowd they too have the right to membership of with its commonalities.
Essentially, young people are unique because there are in their present ages experiencing the stages in their transition from childhood to adulthood, with a unique set of challenges and vulnerabilities that the generation above only too experienced themselves. However, problems faced by young people cannot be eliminated through the pre-existing lens of assigned perception, because it is the very lens that has inadvertently caused young people to be excluded from many processes that would otherwise benefit them. The International Youth Day can never be justified if it is celebrated on the basis that young people’s experiences and strengths are singled out by adult establishment, taking away their legitimacy. ‘Youth’ need to be removed from any bubbles the present-generational young people themselves did not create, needing to be understood for who they truly are and what they truly represent.
Gender and Climate Change: Where are we and what next?
Climate change affects women more profoundly than men. Often, women bear the brunt of extreme weather events because they lack economic, political and legal power, especially in developing countries.
Because of cultural barriers and their lower economic status, women often have fewer assets to fall back on than men. They are largely absent from decision-making because of unequal participation in leadership roles – further compounding their vulnerability. So when it comes to coping with climate change, women usually have fewer adaptive strategies than men.
The women who live in poor rural communities use natural resources in a different way than men because they possess fewer assets. It is women, for example, who are responsible for collecting firewood, fetching water, growing food – or foraging for it – making them more vulnerable to the climatic changes that affect these resources. So the international community must pay attention to gender dynamics when it develops climate change policies and puts them into action.
International recognition – where are we now?
International frameworks are beginning to incorporate a gender dimension into action on climate change. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emphasises gender balance and increased participation of women in its processes and in national delegations. It also calls for the development of gender responsive climate policies at all levels.
Gender is also getting more attention at climate change conferences. In 2014, at COP20 in Lima, a Programme of Action on Gender was established ‘to advance implementation of gender-responsive climate policies’. The Paris Agreement of 2015 acknowledged the importance gender equality and empowerment of women in climate action. In 2017, COP23 established a Gender Action Plan. So there is forward momentum.
And with developing countries calling for more money to address climate change, there is also an increasing emphasis on gender-responsive budgeting. The Green Climate Fund – the largest international fund for countering climate change – is shifting towards a more gender-sensitive approach and recently developed a Gender Policy and Action Plan.
The Commonwealth, gender and climate change
The Commonwealth has a long history of championing small states, women and young people. In 2015, the Commonwealth Summit introduced a Women’s Forum to amplify the voice of women and raise key gender issues to leaders. Gender and climate change issues gained further momentum at the 2018 Summit in London, when heads of government committed to accelerating action to achieve targets under the Paris Agreement and the Women’s Forum called for the Commonwealth to take gender into account in addressing climate change.
Gender and climate change is one of four gender priorities of the Commonwealth. That means the Commonwealth is shaping its work to reflect gender considerations. However, more can be done to build on synergies and collaborate with partners to increase support to small and vulnerable states.
The urgency of climate change requires more progress at a greater pace. Increasing the participation and engagement of women in addressing it is a first and critical step. I look forward to seeing progress and will follow discussions on the Gender Action Plan at COP24 in Poland later this week. Even more important will be the first report on its implementation in 2019 because – as they say – the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Sharing experiences and learning from what is already happening is important in understanding gaps and challenges and in developing better responses and strategies, so I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. Are there challenges and lessons learned that you feel are important and that can shape the agenda moving forward, especially in the Commonwealth?
Young Voices Program: Global Space for Youth Empowerment
Young people matter. Not just because they can be powerful constituencies to recruit or consumers to develop. They matter in their own right and their growth is fundamental for the future stability and civilized success of societies, countries, and the world.
Unfortunately, a space for them to be themselves – to express and explore their own thoughts and to learn to articulate their own voices – is limited, especially on a global scale. Within the limited spaces available, most are politicized if not outright commercialized. Too often, youth have been used as vehicles for narcissistic adults, power-hungry politicians, and greedy conglomerates. In other words, around the globe grownups have maximized, exploited, and manipulated the power and potential of the young, all supposedly in the name of ‘youth.’
With seventeen years of experience in educational and youth empowerment projects in Thailand and Asia, I have witnessed how these exploitations take place. Politicians talk about the importance of education, but only in terms of gaining votes for themselves. Political transactions are not bad in and of themselves, if the votes can bring about better schooling, equal opportunities, and gender equity, just to name some rightful benefits. More often than not, however, these talks on education are shallow rhetoric that cease to impact reality after the votes have been dropped into the ballot boxes.
The commitment to education is there, don’t get me wrong. Countries spend billions of dollars on it. But the commitment for youth excellence, for the articulation of original youth analysis, is lacking. More space is needed for youth to express themselves, their concerns for their society, and debate the ideas openly and civilly. Elite schools have done this for centuries – bringing the best and brightest minds together in a room to debate and articulate their thoughts. But with the internet, online spaces have become critical in creating opportunity for youth dialogues and learning spaces. But now the online arena also carries with it dangers: we need to create spaces that provide enlarged, engaged, and equitable venues for youth to participate in the important issues of the day, without fear of retaliation, retribution, or politicization. More youth need to get involved in expressing their ideas on issues that matter to them, to truly become globally-engaged citizens now. This is not so much about a virtual ‘safe space’ as it is a declaration of creating virtual engaged spaces. These are too few and far between in today’s world.
Thus, increasing quality online courses make quality learning fairer and more accessible to youth worldwide. This is why we propose the creation of an online platform on Modern Diplomacy, one of the most vibrant e-magazines in Europe, with massive followers far beyond it. This MD platform believes in the freedom of expression and sharing of ideas. It will allow youth – students across the world in all types of institutions – to not just share their ideas but have opportunities to engage with their own readers, creating a vibrant dialogue and budding global youth network.
Professor Anis Bajrektarevic, professor of Law from the University of Vienna and Chairman of Modern Diplomacy, put it bluntly by saying we are in a crisis of the “cognitive:” namely, there is a dearth of “cognition.” In some circles, the talk already flows about the existence of a “cognitive war:”
“To address this issue, we need to rethink our global intellectual flow, create information pathways for youth to create their own narratives beyond traditional convention so they can articulate themselves, learn to become self-assured, and explore their boundaries and limitations”.
With this new MD platform project, youth can write about current affairs, contest theories, or share their own original creative trajectories. They can learn from each other by being engaged and reading new ideas not as a form of competition but as a spur for new intellectual growth. In addition, they can get feedback to improve their writing from a team of international, experienced, and well-articulated youth editors. Aditi Aryal, one of the editors for the MD Young Voices program, is an experienced and highly-regarded international writer. Growing up in Nepal and India, she has extensive experience in writing, addressing social taboos, and gender restriction in the South Asian context:
“Modern Diplomacy is a huge platform that permits the expression of unfettered ideas and opinions. It has always been a vibrant platform that allows writers to express freely without having to face backlash, judgment, or censorship. As I began my writing journey with Modern Diplomacy, I grew not only as a writer but also as a thinker. It has always supported my quest for expression of ideas without obstructions. I have found in Modern Diplomacy a secure space that has nurtured me, my writing, expression, and thoughts. There could not have been a more conducive platform for this growth that I have seen in myself”.
Another leading editor is Selene Sandoval, graduate student at Teachers College- Columbia University. Being a first-generation student of color to attend college in her family, Selene brings a passion for education, equity, and social empowerment. An experienced writer and tutor, she can help train and inspire other young writers to express and articulate themselves:
“My current belief for youth is that we have a voice stronger than we might realize. That is why it is essential for students around the world to research and be involved in issues that are affecting our generation, whether it be education, politics, or social issues. Students have historically been at the forefront of radical shifts in society by expressing their opinions on such issues like civil rights. Not only is it a way to express your opinion on current events and news around the world, but it is a way to grow as a writer. Writing as a basic skill is fundamental because it is part of every field. The more we are able to effectively communicate our ideas through writing, the more we are able to develop our professional careers. Modern Diplomacy can be the platform where you express your interests in a way that may be palatable for other youth to read and understand.”
‘Young Voices’ as a platform requires space where the communication and interaction of minds and ideas flow freely without judgment. By learning and engaging dissimilar perspectives and engaging in healthy debates and discussions, across all analytical disciplines and geographical locations, we welcome any age group to be participants! We at Modern Diplomacy seek to provide young people a constructive and cohesive community to build around them, based on the freedom of expression, intense analysis, and rigorous, rational thought.
Articles selected will be published on Modern Diplomacy online and the best articles will be published in our geopolitical Ebook series.
Articles can be submitted for reviews at mdyv[at]moderndiplomacy.eu
The need for speed on modern slavery
Three years ago, world leaders committed to take effective measures to end modern slavery by 2030. By the best estimates, there are around 40.3 million people in modern slavery. Reaching that goal would mean 9,127 people being removed from or prevented from falling into modern slavery each and every day between now and 31 December 2030.
How close are we to meeting that proposed rate of change? Until now, the short answer has been: we don’t really know. There has been no centralized place to access information on the rate of change towards this goal.
That changed on Sunday, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Delta 8.7 – a project of the Centre for Policy Research at United Nations University – began publishing country data dashboards measuring the change towards this goal.
These dashboards bring together the best available data on modern slavery, forced labour, human trafficking and child labour for each country. They also provide contextual information, including details of what each country is doing to bring these numbers down, and links to relevant legislation, national action plans and social protection arrangements. Over the coming months, more of these dashboards will be steadily rolled out.
So what do these dashboards tell us?
First, the dashboards suggest we are nowhere near the rate of change needed to meet the goal of ending modern slavery by 2030.
Even the countries that are performing best, with double-digit reductions in child labour, are not achieving the sustained reductions needed to meet the 2030 targets. Until we have more complete country coverage it will be too early to draw conclusions on a ‘global’ reduction rate, but the signs from the first set of dashboards are that a steep increase in reduction rates is needed.
Second, they show that we need to rapidly improve our ability to measure these reduction rates.
Most of the countries covered have reliable data only for child labour. Our ability to measure reduction of modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking is much weaker. That stands to reason: countries have invested more, over a longer period, in measuring child labour. Only recently have they begun to invest in efforts to measure modern slavery and forced labour with the same scientific rigor.
There are promising signs on this front, though. In October national statisticians from around the world agreed a new method for measuring forced labour, which should make better data available in the next few years. The UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime has also been working with countries to strengthen measurement of human trafficking.
Third, the country dashboards suggest that there may be lessons from the effort against child labour for the fight against adult forms of modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking. Some of the reductions in child labour identified in the dashboards are impressive – for example, child labour decreased 59% between 2002 and 2015 in Brazil, while in Argentina it decreased 31% in just one year between 2011 and 2012. Figuring out ‘what worked’ in the fight against child labour may be instructive as we seek to identify ‘what works’ in the fight against modern slavery – and scale it up.
Generating this type of knowledge can take time. Starting in February 2019, the project will work with partners to accelerate the knowledge-generation process on ‘Code 8.7’, by bringing artificial intelligence and machine learning into the equation. Computational science offers a way to accelerate the process of understanding what works to end modern slavery.
Ultimately, however, it will be up to world leaders to learn these lessons – whether generated by artificial intelligence or the old-fashioned human kind. Unless world leaders accelerate their own learning and efforts, chances are, we will not come close to meeting their lofty goal.
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