In an international survey of young people by One Young World, 80 per cent of respondents said they have witnessed human rights violations in their country. Almost half of the One Young World community say their governments do not uphold the human rights of all citizens, indicating a worldwide crisis of confidence in governmental commitment to universal rights.
The auditorium listened attentively to the powerful speeches made by young leaders from around the world, with contributions from Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Gambia Hassan Jallow, Black Lives Matter campaigner DeRay Mckesson, Canadian Olympic Champion Mark Tewksbury, Lumos CEO Georgette Mulheir, and Bollywood actress Nargis Fakhri.
The Leadership & Government Plenary Session first heard a keynote speech from Natalia Ponce De Leon, Colombian human rights campaigner, who shed light on the trauma of acid attack victims in her country, including her personal experience.
Here are 6 takeaways from each of the delegate speakers:
1. Young people must support others in their communities
Jaha Dukureh, Gambian female genital mutilation (FGM) activist, was part of the effort that resulted in The Gambia’s formal ban of female genital mutilation on November 24th, 2015. Following 20 years of dictatorial rule, no one ever thought this day would come.
She began by starting a support group from the safety of her living room, and from there, she founded and run the non-profit organization Safe Hands for Girls.
Jaha expressed the need for activists, especially the young, to amplify each other's voices at every level of community.
After two years of working within the U.S, she wanted to give something back to Gambia. Following trips back home she met with the President and pushed hard to shed light on the effects of FGM on 76 per cent of girls and women in their country. She revealed a few days later, one of the most notorious dictators in the world, passed a law banning FGM.
She expressed, “Laws don’t change, people change people.”
2. Always stand for law & transparency
Mohamed Khelifi, from the Youth Can Organisation, spoke of the Tunisian Revolution, the first in the waves of protests which became known as ‘The Arab Spring’.
Witnessing its effect on so many people's lives, he chose to dedicate his life to fighting corruption from a legal standpoint. He joined the “I Watch Organisation” where he became responsible for the Advocacy and Legal Advice Center (ALAC), a project among many of I Watch, the official office of Transparency International in Tunisia.
The I Watch movement carries the slogan: “I will not forgive - no reconciliation before public accountability!”
It caught the imagination of 15,000 young people who marched for transparency and justice alongside 400,000 more who followed their filming on Facebook in solidarity.
3. Leverage social media to amplify rights violations
Trisha Shetty, founder of SheSays, is a leading movement for tax-free menstrual hygiene products in India.
She reveled, “In India, only 12 per cent of the 355 million menstruating women use sanitary products” , “The remaining 88 per cent are forced to use cloth, ash, sand or plastic,” she added.
What’s unique about her project is that she’s focusing solely on a women’s issue - but making it a human rights issue.
Bringing influencers on board, she ran a powerful social media campaign that gathered over 28 million responses on Twitter.
They used social media to raise awareness of the link between school dropout rates and poor menstrual hygiene.
She said, “Our governments can either commit to doing better and working with the youth, or step aside, She added, “We will not settle for anything less than equality, freedom, justice and peace!”
4. Shape your governments by becoming decision-makers
“Every single person here today wants to see change, and all that separates us is that some of us are taking action to bring about this change,” says Kenny Imafidon, leader of Bite The Ballot, a UK-based movement to inspire young people to have a stake in politics.
In the UK, 16-24 year olds are least likely to register to vote. But BTB has managed to register almost 2 million millennials to vote via voter registration drives. The latest UK general election witnessed the biggest youth voter turnout in the last 25 years.
Explaining voting is the first step to political engagement, he said, “Yes, it is a human right to have free and fair elections but it is our choice to vote.”
Lastly, he said, “If we are not happy with our leaders then we need to step up ourselves and become decision-makers ourselves.”
5. Peacefully protesting can reap major rewards
Abraham M Keita comes from Liberia in West Africa, where poverty, disease, and hunger are daily realities and children’s rights are often violated.
His hunger for justice was ignited at the age of nine, after a 13-year-old girl was sexually abused and brutally murdered by her foster parents.
He joined children and young community leaders in a major protest demanding that the offenders be brought to trial.
“Peaceful protest has been our answer,” he said. He added, "No violence against children is justifiable and all violence against children is preventable."
At 19 years old, him and his friends have been organising peaceful demonstrations for children’s rights.
In 2012 Liberia became one of the first African countries to adopt comprehensive legislation for children, the Children’s Law, integrating both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter, much thanks to Abraham’s efforts. But government implementation of the law is lacking.
6. It’s unacceptable to be ostracized based on your sexuality
Natalino Guterres dedicates his time volunteering for children and fellow young persons in his home country of Timor Leste. He’s passionate about empowering and creating a better environment for them, especially those from minority groups. A proud member of the LGBTI community in a Catholic society, Natalino himself faced harsh unacceptance himself.
During the Plenary Session, he spoke of his childhood, growing up, struggling to come to terms with his own sexualty. His own brother told him he hated him for who he was.
"Discrimination, disrespect and abuse towards people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, would not bring any benefit to us as individuals and as a society," he said.
“Changes are possible. And they can start with us, with you. They start with the young generation.”
This article was written by Elinor Jane Stephens. She is a Magazine Journalist, trained at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC).