Young people are the future – but they are often excluded from the decisions that will affect their lives. Their voices and concerns are frequently ignored by politicians and decision makers and they can struggle to fulfil their aspirations. August 12th marks the UN’s International Youth Day – an opportunity to celebrate and mainstream young peoples’ voices, actions and initiatives. This year’s theme is “Youth Engagement for Global Action” – an apt choice in a year which has seen young people at the forefront of movements seeking to address global issues from racism to climate change.
We are marking International Youth Day with the second call-out in our 6-month campaign #MyStoryForAStory (#MijnStoryVoorEenStory) which asks young people in the Netherlands to show solidarity with their peers in restrictive countries. The campaign aims to encourage deeper engagement among young Dutch people with international development efforts, through creating awareness of the efforts of young people in difficult situations to take action and bring about change for the better in their societies.
Equality between communities
As the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted, racism is embedded in societies and institutions in different ways around the world. Racism is, at least in part, historically rooted in slavery which still exists in some parts of the world – including parts of Mali where ‘slavery by descent’ is a controversial issue. In a short campaign video being shared by Dutch influencers, Kangaye Sangaré from our Benbere team in Mali calls on Dutch youth to share the story of their campaign “Mali Sans Esclave” (Mali Without Slaves) for equality and social justice between communities”
‘Slavery by descent’ has become an increasingly volatile issue in the Kayes region of Mali. The region is on the dividing line between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa and has a community of Tuareg and Arabic people (approximately 10 percent of Mali’s total population) who regard themselves as ‘white’ and other Malians as ‘black’. Tuaregs and Arabic people historically participated in the trans-Saharan slave trade, sometimes selling and enslaving ‘blacks’ when they could. For centuries, descent-based slavery – where slavery is passed down through the bloodline – has resulted in ‘Black Tamasheq’ (the Tuareg language) families in Mali’s north being used as slaves by nomadic Tuareg communities. People born into descent-based slavery face a lifetime of exploitation, working without pay and are treated as property.
The situation on the ground though is complex, as Benbere reports, and ‘a thorn in the side of the authorities’, with tradition, culture and religion all playing a role in the conflicts around the issue. There are a number of local anti-slavery organisations but there are different opinions about the best way forward. (You can read more about the situation here.) Benbere has published a number of articles on this issue which you can find in the dossier #MaliSansEsclaves. Posts with the hashtag attracted almost 13,700 interactions (likes, comments and shares) on the Benbere Facebook page in the first six months of this year.
Campaigning for change
Campaigns are an important tool to drive young people’s engagement and encourage their participation in action that can bring about change. The importance of social media channels as a space where people connect with ideas and with each other makes them a highly effective medium for generating action. RNW Media’s platforms and digital communities are active in many different contexts and the needs and concerns of our users inform the issues our country teams highlight with successful campaigns focusing on topics most relevant to the local context.
Burundi, for instance, has a youth unemployment rate of 65% so our Yaga Burundi platform implemented the #Bdiemploi campaign inviting young people to think about the structural problems that lead to high unemployment. Campaign content reached over 835,000 people on Facebook and offline debates were organised in four universities across the country. As a result of the campaign, the relevant government ministry invited young people to participate in workshops to discuss structural employment challenges, especially the mismatch between what they learn in school and the job market. The campaign also succeeded in pushing officials from rhetoric to action when the Youth Investment Bank which had been promised by the government for two years, finally held its inaugural meeting. Read more about Yaga and the #Bdiemploi campaign
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, our Habari RDC team was inspired to create the campaign #Univsansharcelement (Universities Without Harassment) after one of their monthly offline debates made clear that the problem of Sexually Transmitted Points – i.e. better grades in return for sex – was wide-spread in the country’s universities and little was being done to tackle it. As well as sharing the stories of survivors, objectives included establishing counselling services for students who are targets of harassment, and changes to the law to make these behaviours illegal. As a result of the campaign, the Habari team were invited to participate in the development of government guidelines for combating sexual harassment in universities and took part in associated advocacy activities. Read more about Habari RDC and the #Univsansharcelement campaign.
Sexual harassment and gender-based violence (GBV) are also a concern in Yemen where GBV has increased by 63 percent since civil war broke out in 2015. The Manasati30 platform in Yemen addressed the issue with a campaign encouraging victims to seek help and to increase the visibility of the services available. Other activities targeted young Yemeni men by looking at GBV from the point of view of the harasser. Two videos created for the campaign were viewed more than 1.6 million times. Viewers on Facebook were asked: “if you are a harasser, did this video convince you to stop harassment?”, of the 1,091 respondents, 83% said, “yes” and 17% said, “I will try”. Read more about Manasati30 and their GBV campaign.
You can find more information about how young people engage in social issues via our global network of platforms at rnw.org.