Participation and this Publication
As described in the introduction, each of the stories and examples of good practice is divided into six sections.
- The Issue – specific to that community or group
- The Organisation
- The Project – what the project did or does
- Participation – highlighting the practice of participation
- Outcomes – direct results of the participatory work
Most of the sections are self-explanatory, however the section on ‘Participation’ will need further explanation. In order to highlight participation and how it was taking place, the authors referred to a model of participation from the Have Your Say! manual.
[The Charter] proposes an approach that can be used in all areas of young people’s involvement at local level, such as when running participatory projects for youth, building youth-adult partnerships or setting up youth organisations and groups, etc.
The charter’s approach to participation is the so called “RMSOS” approach and is based on the five keywords mentioned in the document’s preamble: Right, Means, Space, Opportunity and Support.
It is based on the principle that meaningful youth participation can only take place when the right conditions have been created and all the actors involved in participatory work have been given the responsibility to ensure that these conditions are present.
The five keywords, Right, Means, Space, Opportunity and Support, represent the main factors having an influence on youth involvement at local level.
(Have Your Say! manual on the Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life, Chapter 3)
Within the context of this publication, two other elements were added to the model, ‘Identity’ and ‘Human Rights and antigypsyism’. Below is an explanation about each of the elements summarised from the original text in the Have Your Say! manual:
Basically, young people have the right to participate in society; it should not be dependent on local or regional authorities providing the right. It is a fundamental right. This area of participation can be seen when young people are in a position to actively promote their rights, where they have influence on local decision-making processes through consultations or voting. This is also being fulfilled when activities, projects and organisations are promoting youth rights. Please note, however, that this does not mean the promotion of the need for rights but a promotion of the rights being practised. Rights cover every aspect of life, not only civil or political rights, but also social, economic or cultural ones.
Young people have the means to participate. As in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if basic needs such as food or shelter are not being met, then participation is not a high priority as there is a focus on obtaining missing resources. It is necessary to ensure basic needs are being met for individuals and communities, then the feeling of isolation and being left out of society can be dealt with and participation can be enacted. Basic needs include sufficient social security, education, housing, health care, transportation, know-how and access to technology.
Young people need the space to participate. This refers not only to physical space for meeting and running activities but also the space in time for the organising of their own activities. Another aspect of space can be seen in terms of the Internet: this is being used more and more as a space for exchanging views or even setting up projects with others. There is another aspect of space, and that is young people being provided with opportunities to participate within the institutional frameworks; specifically, this can relate to policy making. Added to this, society needs to have space available for young people’s views, recommendations and conclusions to be heard, acknowledged and to have a real impact on decisions.
The opportunity to participate is an option for young people. In order to participate there has to be an opportunity to do so: young people also need access to information on how to get involved, what opportunities are available and where. With opportunity in place, young people can make informed decisions about their involvement and participation. Opportunity is also about structures and institutions providing opportunities for participation; however, opportunity here means more than just an opening, it means that decision-making processes and systems need to be youth-friendly, understandable and organised in such a way that young people feel empowered and not overwhelmed. This also means providing sufficient time for the young people to participate at their own pace.
Young people need support available in order to participate. Support needs to be available in many forms, all of which need to be accessible to young people. These should include the following: financial, moral, institutional, personal, and organisational, all of which need to be available at a local community level. Local authorities should provide adequate financial support to cover at least expenses and structural costs. Moral support and advice needs to be on hand to support the young people in decision making; this can be provided by a person referred to in the revised charter as a guarantor, youth worker or other professional. Institution or community support needs to be in place to recognise the importance and contribution of youth participation.
It became clear from several of the stories that Roma youth participation was related to identity. Participation in society supports the formation and reinforcing of identity amongst Roma young people and it also strengthens their social identity and affirms positively their identity as Roma. In several cases the self-esteem of young Roma was reinforced: the way young Roma perceived themselves moved from a feeling of having a lack of social worth and/or fear of showing cultural affiliation, to a stronger sense of worth and pride. Strength of understanding of identity reinforces the need for participation. At the same time, participation of Roma young people in the project or action supports the formation and reinforcement of their identity.
This element of participation should not be seen in isolation from the other dimensions: it is an integral part of participation in general. However, since this element was very visible and, from the interviewees’ point of view, crucial to explaining the “why” and “what for” of participation, we have chosen to see it as a separate dimension.
Young people acting for human rights and against antigypsyism was a consistent theme in all the stories, and was an important factor in the participation of young people. Roma youth participation is in some cases a reaction to the very widespread antigypsyism affecting Roma communities. Roma young people are taking action because they want to combat antigypsyism and make a stand for their rights. The participation of Roma young people empowers them to act for the human rights of all Roma which empowers more young people to participate. Human rights and human rights education form a foundation for participation.
The participation of young Roma cannot be seen to be isolated from the conditions that their communities face. Where Roma people live in conditions of discrimination, exclusion, segregation and violence, in order to participate, young Roma are challenging these conditions and finding alternative solutions for their lives.
This element is not isolated from the others. However, given its key importance among the values that Roma youth participation promotes, it was decided to consider it as a highlighted dimension of Roma youth participation.