“Young people are the future, hear their voices”
This quote was just one of a whole range of messages written by ranger and rover scouts and guides aged 16-22 in the WAGGGS tent at the Roverway WAGGGS-WOSM Europe Region camp this summer.
Our external relations team wanted to take the opportunity to really reach out to young people and hear about the changes they want to see in the world, so that we can better represent them in our work in the European Youth Forum, the European Women’s Lobby and with European Institutions.
So, in our ‘Advocacy Postcards’ activity we gave participants the space to think about what they would ask decision-makers in Europe on behalf of young people - particularly on the topics of gender equality and education. Young people then wrote their messages on postcards and posted them in the mailbox to be sent to a European institution - the European Commission, the Council of Europe or the European Parliament.
I read each of these messages, and the responses to the institutions were passionate and determined, with rangers and rovers asking for change on topics from sustainable development to breaking down gender stereotypes. While the postcards are for the institutions, I have listened to these messages, and will continue to advocate for the needs and wants of the young people we represent across Europe in our external relations work.
We also asked the participants how they would like WAGGGS to represent them at the European Youth Forum and the European Women's Lobby - and there too we had a range of responses. In this blog I’ll explore what young people wanted in our work with the YFJ, and how their voices are informing my campaign as a candidate for the board.
What I heard from young people
The variety of topics covered by the rangers and rovers in their messages showed just how aware they are of the world around them and how engaged they are in trying to find solutions to issues. Some even wrote about how scouting and guiding had taught them how to be independent young people.
I heard messages about the challenges in education and finding a job; shelter for refugees and encouragement for the YFJ to keep advocating for young people to be agents for change when it comes to gender equality. The main theme throughout the YFJ postcards, though, was that they want young people’s voices to be heard. They ask for safe spaces for young people to discuss the world around them; they raise the question of lowering the voting age; and ask for youth politics to be more accessible.
In the “Be The Change” advocacy workshops I co-facilitated, teams of young people worked together to create their own advocacy project plans. The range of topics, depth of knowledge and passion to make a difference was inspirational. They created action plans tackling issues from bullying to youth empowerment, but one of the most popular themes was environmental issues. For that reason one of my key topics in my YFJ campaign is around sustainable development.
How this informs my YFJ campaign
These postcards are not only important for the asks that they deliver to decision-makers - they are also really important for our WAGGGS external relations team. For us this was one of the ways we have worked to connect directly with the young people we represent, and ask them to share their thoughts and ideas with us. We did this in another form with our Yo!Fest workshop at the European Youth Event earlier this year, when we set up a U-Report poll to ask young people across Europe to remotely contribute their thoughts on the topic of gender equality, which we then used with Yo!Fest participants in a face-to-face workshop.
For me this is a crucial aspect of good representation - listening to the voices of young people and using that to inform our advocacy work. This is something that I do whenever possible - whether listening to young people’s plans for their own advocacy projects in a workshop or through statistics on U-Report polls. What I have heard from young people has shaped my campaign themes - from a focus on evidence-based advocacy to youth participation in governance. There are so many different ways to engage with young people, and listening to them not only informs relevant and impactful work, but it also shows the people that we represent that we listen, and that we are engaged in empowering them too to change the world around them.
At Roverway I listened as workshop participants discussed the issues they were most passionate about working on; I helped them to shape their own advocacy projects; I read their messages to decision-makers; and now I will take all of this forward to our team and to the YFJ - you are the future and we are listening!