What you can do
Understand the Situation
Understanding the different aspects of an issue is essential in order to be able to plan effective actions. Therefore, before deciding what to do about young people’s access to social rights in your neighbourhood, you should first seek to understand the situation of young people and the social, political and economic environment in which they live.
Knowledge really is power, and knowledge about the way in which young people are denied access to social rights in your neighbourhood is the starting point of action. You can start by thinking about, reflecting upon, and identifying the issues that confront young people in your neighbourhood.
- Identify the specific issues that affect the quality of life for young people where you live. From your knowledge of the neighbourhood you could identify the issues that make life difficult for young people, for example, access to housing, the cost of leisure facilities, access to youth spaces, a lack of sexual health and relationship education and youth friendly health services, or prejudice towards a particular minority group.
- Speak with young people and identify the things that they are frustrated by or passionate about. Keep in mind that young people often notice things that adult policy makers don’t, won’t or can’t say. Identify the issues that matter most to young people in your neighbourhood.
- Involve young people in identifying and understanding the issues affect them most, or that they are motivated to change. Keep in mind that it can take a long time, and a lot of effort to make even small changes to the situation. Similarly, you or the young people you work with may have to learn more about this issue and explore it from a variety of perspectives before taking action.
- Stay realistic, manage expectations and be clear about what you would consider success to be; you could start by simply trying to raise awareness about the issues facing young people.
Identify the key stakeholders
It’s important that you know who else is affected by the issue that you have identified, who the key decision-makers are, and who the other stakeholders are. This will help you to identify opportunities for collaboration or people who may hold different opinions.
- Undertake stakeholder mapping or community mapping. Find out who the key actors are, what the current situation is and what these stakeholders are doing about the situation.
- Speak with adults and key influencers in your neighbourhood about the situation. Find out whether they agree with what young people are saying, assess whether they could help with future actions.
- Identify the different audiences that you want to communicate with and the message that will resonate with them. You may need to adapt your stories to the different stakeholders you have identified, such as other young people, local politicians, local media, or public officials. Perhaps emotional stories and personal accounts will appeal to some, and written reports and data to others.
Start creating your story
Collect the evidence, such as stories, data, and personal accounts from people in your neighbourhood in order to understand the situation. You could:
- Speak with the young people, carry out interviews, or make videos of them describing the way in which the situation affects their lives. For example, you could interview young people about their experiences of trying to access social housing, health care or their experiences of the education system. You could you set up a survey to collect their views about the quality of education in their neighbourhood.
- Access and analyse the data and information that is held by government and other organisations. For example there may already be data available on the rate of unemployment amongst young people in your neighbourhood, the number of violent crimes affecting young people, the number of young people on waiting lists for social housing. Gather the stories in the local newspapers that will help you understand what is happening and work with other organisations that have worked in this area.
- Analyse the data that you have collected. Identify the key issues that are emerging. If possible, try to identify one or two key issues or ideas that could help improve the situation.
Devise a Plan of Action
With a good understanding of the situation, you can start to decide on the best course of action. In general, good activism requires good planning. A planning session in the group will help you to focus on exactly what you want and are able to do, and what is the best way of achieving your results. For more ambitious aims, this is probably an advisable first move, since an action that doesn't achieve its desired results can be discouraging. You need to make the first thing you do effective.
Try working through the four stages below within your group:
- Find out where you stand: do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis for your group.
- Decide on the problem you want to address, and the results you want to achieve.
- Think of the best way you can to address it, given the resources in your group.
By action, we mean something beyond a "formal" activity and something, which probably includes a wider community than the group itself. Taking action is designed to bring about a result, which is valuable not only from the educational point of view, but also beyond. The actions you plan could be designed to support people affected by the situation, to increase young people’s knowledge about the situation, or to actually change the situation itself.
Link up with other groups or movements
Although it is useful for young people to initiate their own actions, there can also be benefit in taking action as part of a larger movement, or gaining experience by working with other organisations.
From the stakeholder mapping you undertake, you may identify organisations, both "professional" NGOs and spontaneous grass roots movements, engaged in working for social rights. Some of these may be operating in your local neighbourhood or may run campaigns that you or the young people you work with could become involved in.
Remember that an organisation may not always refer to its work as "social rights" work; however, an organisation working on homelessness, child poverty, domestic violence, racism and discrimination, or many other issues, is, of course working on social rights, whether or not it states it explicitly.
Support people in need
Many young people and youth groups are active in offering direct assistance to people who have been denied access to their social rights. By meeting with those who are experiencing difficulties, listening to their issues, or by providing company or conversation young people can directly impact on the lives of people denied access to their social rights. Visiting the vulnerable, and noticing failures by the state can also put them in a stronger position to lobby those who are responsible, or to bring the failures to public light by contacting the media. You could:
- Engage young people in volunteering activities. For example you or the young people you work with could volunteer at a homeless shelter, with a local NGO or charity, or run sports and leisure activities for other young people in the neighbourhood.
- Involve young people in fundraising activities. For example, you or the young people you work with could organise activities to raise money to support local organisations that work to improve the situation of people in your neighbourhood.
Training and Peer Education
Young people can make excellent educators and are often more effective in recruiting others to a cause or changing attitudes, particularly when the audience is their own peer group. Explaining an issue to others will also help young people both to clarify their own positions and gain greater confidence. You could:
- Train young people to act as peer educators or as activists for social rights. For example, you or the young people you work with could be involved in training sessions that raise their awareness about gender inequality or sexual and reproductive health so that they can with other young people in the local community to raise awareness about these issues.
Lobbying and Campaigning
Policy change comes about – whether at national, international or local level – as a result of a number of pressures, often one after another, from various sources. Sometimes the best way to exert pressure on representatives of the state is through co-operation, trying to get the representatives to understand your arguments. Sometimes it is through protest or pressure. Generally, policies are changed as a result of influences coming from a number of directions, both collaborative and confrontational.
Supporting young people to communicate their experiences, hold public meetings or organise around a clear campaign can help to raise awareness of the issues you want to address. The most successful meetings, campaigns or lobbying activities have a clear, simple, memorable and coherent message. It’s essential that your campaign has clear strategic intent, so be clear about what you want to achieve, for example you could be trying to raise awareness, to change opinions, attitudes or a specific decision.
Ensure that key decision makers and stakeholders hear the realities experienced by young people who are denied access to their social rights, but also stories of success! Story telling is a powerful tool for getting the message of youth centred social rights across. Tell the story of your local activities or the experiences of young people who are denied access to their social rights, using social media as well as other forms of communications. These stories should be directed at policy decision-makers, fund providers and, most importantly, the local community. For example, you could
- Work with young people to inform and educate key decision makers about the realities young people experience in accessing education, employment, housing, health, leisure, or any of the social rights covered in this recommendation. Speak about the Recommendation in public events.
- Organise a public meeting where young people are invited to talk about the realities they experience. These meetings could allow young people to discuss their experiences with elected representatives and public officials.
- Join platforms working on social rights.
- Work with young people to produce short videos or photos to raise awareness about the issues that they are facing and communicate these through social media
- Organise public actions, such as street theatre, a protest march, petitions, or sit-ins that aim to raise awareness, attract others to the cause, get media attention and show politicians or those in power that people are watching. If you are thinking of a public action, bear in mind the importance of doing something which will attract attention: make people laugh, or make them stop and stare; you may even want to try to shock them. You need to get people talking!
It is important that any actions that you initiate that support young people to access their social rights do so in a way that encourages active participation and starts where young people and decision-makers are at. Encouraging young people to become active and critical citizens, engaged in political processes, and ensuring that decision-makers are responsive to the situation of young people, requires learning, debate and dialogue: for all of those involved. Any way in which you can expose young people and decision-makers to realities that they do not encounter on a day-to-day basis, and that encourage greater understanding of youth social rights and the realities of youth is a step in the right direction.