“The Untold Stories of Injustice towards Young People”
Youth Empowerment for Good
Key Note Presentation at the 19th Council of the World YMCA
10th of July 2018, Chiang Mai, Thailand
NyBy aradzayi Gumbonzvanda
The World YMCA President, Peter Posner and Executive Council Members
The World YMCA General Secretary, Rev. Johan Vilhelm Eltvik, staff and volunteers
Our hosts YMCA of Thailand, Sawadika
Delegates to the 19th World YMCA Council
Guests and friends
Young people woyeee!
This is the day the lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
This is also the day we are gathered to testify together on not to tell “untold story” but to “Retell the Story of Injustice Towards Young People Today”.
I have always known the YMCA as movement, and not JUST an organisation, as the longest standing empowering space for young people, fully dedicated to ensuring healthy bodies and bright minds. You are intergenerational movement providing services and wisdom within our communities.
In 2016, Peter Posner and Johan Vilhelm Eltvik wrote in a foreword to the Annual Report:
“Youth empowerment is the goal, and also the way to get there. Our cause is addressing the untold story of injustice against young people. Empowering young people so that they can make their change is the magic. Progressing from being an institution to a movement is the way forward. Going from political silent to ethical action is the future”
This words of the visionary leaders signalled to me the level of courage of our YMCA movement as we take the leap forward. It is clear that as a movement, THE TIME is now to strongly embrace the following key elements of rights and social justice, that will be framing the rest of my presentation:
• Youth empowerment is a human rights and social justice issue.
• Youth empowerment is about active citizens, claim their rights and building community of respect.
• The power of numbers in creating transformative change
• Addressing injustice is naming rights violations and being part of the solutions
Our story of injustice is not a single narrative, but a complex and multi-layered conversation grounded in the reality of more than 65% of the world’s population today. 1.8 billion people. An injustice towards young people is not just a human rights, security and development issue, it is an issue of faith and crisis of values. It pricks our moral conscience, calling on us to speak out, to speak up, to speak always. Silence is often not a choice in the face of injustice, it is only a tactic to achieving mission.
The World YMCA Council theme, Youth Empowerment for Good is apt for our times. Let me at the outset express my deepest respect for your deep dive research as a movement with the One Million Voices. Rev Johan Vilhelm Eltvik shared with me and other CEOs of youth associations, the vision and wisdom of such a global effort to bring the voices of an extraordinary number of young people to shape internal and external policies, programmes and interactions with the other. The World YMCA Strategy for 2018 – 2022, indeed draws this inspiration from the young people, as we heard presented in the last session.
• Youth Empowerment. Voice and agency, spaces, skills and organising.
• Collective Impact: Positioning, visibility and research/evidence
• Movement, Unity and Sustainability. Leadership, resources, governance, rootedness.
I was honoured to journey with you all in the implementation of the New Way and Our Way strategies during the days I served as General Secretary of the World YWCA. I am therefore pleased to see my brothers and sisters from the joint movements of the YWCA and YMCAs with whom I had closer connections. I recognise the many YMCAs that opened their doors to me across the world as we journeyed on the shared mission, from Jerusalem, Oslo and Nairobi among others.
Our personal and private life experiences often drives our passion for justice.
About 50 years ago, a girl was born in rural Zimbabwe and she was the 14th pregnancy of her mother. The first one to be given birth to in a hospital, all the others had been home delivery. It was during the war of liberation in the then Rhodesia. As she trudged back home with a little bundle of life wrapped in a single piece of African cloth, Rozaria had a big lump on her throat. He mind was back to the years she was taken out of school at barely age 13, and married of to a young man in a nearby village.
She was think of the incidence of domestic violence she had ensured for her children. She was thinking of twins who died barely months after she gave birth to this baby girl. Her body was tired but her spirit was strong. She whispered to herself, “I will do all I can, at least for this one to finish school, and live different life.” He husband died and she lived as a widow for 28 years, raising a children, amidst war, poverty, HIV and mental health in the family. She never missed church, prayed with other women and remained focused on her children.
Rozaria, my mother. I am that little bundle of joy, she promised the world she will send to school. My story, is your story and it is the story of millions of girls living in resource poor communities around the world. It’s our story today, as we touch the painful realities and equally some joyful opportunities that enable the empowerment of youth for good.
We live in a world where the world has identified the imperative of a focus on young people as a human rights, development and human security agenda. In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SGD) were adopted. Achieving each of the 17 goals requires a clear commitment and investment in young people, and addressing the gender equality issues. The future is young and is female, hence the importance of harnessing the demographic and the gender divided.
Today, I want to speak to at least 5 injustices of our time that impact young people and which are calling for our collective leadership.
1. The other name of poverty is injustice.
Poverty is about unequal opportunities to resources, to opportunities, to services. It has gender and age dimensions. For young people this is a major issue of the day, as we speak to issue of access to and quality of education, limited opportunities to technical and vocational training for millions of young boys and girls falling in between cracks the education system.
The injustice manifests in the crisis of jobs, unemployment, under employment and absence of decent jobs. We see this manifest at the national level in our countries especially in Africa, were women do not own land, and much more so young women; young men are drowning and border a closed when they take the risky journey to cross the Mediterranean in Europe, and yet Africa is filthy rich.
The issues of corruption, billions lost in illicit financial outflow, tax justice issues, all these are the realities that impact young people more and more. Organisations such as Action Aid International are starting to address poverty as a global justice issue, women’s rights and intergenerational issue.
2. Climate and Ecological Justice- You LEAD the WAY.
As the YMCA movement, your voice is out there, loud and clear on environment and climate justice for over the century. It seems to be in the DNA of this movement. It’s a voice that is present in the negotiations at global level such as COP 15 or the Climate Fund. It’s a voice present in our villages against deforestation and conservation of flora and fauna. It’s that voice that reminds us that the sacredness of life is not only in human form but in all life forms and our dependencies. You bring values and spirituality into a discourse often fraught with politics of exploitation, capital and materialism.
As an African woman, I see the imperative of climate resilience agriculture practices; the importance of investment in green energy sources, the importance of the voices of young people is critical as discuss the issues of policy and funding.
What therefore is the newness in this just work for the young people today. Your voice matters. Continue to be active and empower change agents and leaders today, and for tomorrow. Your life styles matter; what you buy and what you consume matters. your relationship with your environment matters; your speaking out against exploitative behaviours matter; your push for alternatives do matter. You are the conscience of humanity. Demand accountability for climate justice.
3. A world of violence, conflict and war is an injustice to children and young people.
As meet today the Security Council is meeting under the rotating Presidency of Sweden. The just concluded visit to South Sudan, Chad and Niger by UN and AU and a collaborative of the African Women Leaders Network has echoed again the issues that we all know on impact of war on women, children and young people in the short and the long term.
We have followed closely the situation in the Middle East conscious of the devastation of violence on people’s lives. The reality of elections in many part of the world as meant violence and abuse. As a Zimbabwe am reaching out for your prayers and your solidarity, knowing fully well that the outcome of July 30 elections in my country has much longer term implications for young people, both girls in the post Mugabe era. Lack of good governance, limit participation in communities.
We hear often these days about the shrinking civil space. The call therefore if for the empowerment of young people for active civic engagement, for building a culture of peace in our communities and building the collective voices for ethical action in addressing the root causes of the injustices and causes of violence. The international global norms and the church has various tools that enables us to advance this work.
4. Health, wellbeing and justice.
Speaking to the YMCA movement about healthy living and being is speaking to the converted. The YMCA movement is known world wide creative healthy life skills programs, for basketball, hiking, camps etc. It’s the bedrock of our coming together.
However, our movement as a movement of young people must find the courage and space to expand on this and address issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Educating young people about their bodies and relationship issue, access to services and commodities is one of the most controversial and sensitive issues of the day. Yet we know, that the highest people dying due to preventable pregnancy related causes are girls and young women ages 14-24. It is the same age group which has the highest prevalence of HIV especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
Some of the specific issues affecting girls that become of increased focus is menstrual health and rights.
In reading some of the responses in the One Million voices as well as your new strategy, the issues of mental health for young people is a critical importance. I have followed this areas of work closely with experiences within my own family and also in terms of the global public health agenda.
Among the Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs), mental health is identified as one of the key priorities by WHO. Yet it is one area of public health which is so under resourced. It is also painful to see how young people with depression and trauma, a combination of social pressures, at times abuse of substance and alcohol and at times, purely a natural medical condition are stigmatised and ostracised.
5. Ending child and forced marriage – a gross form of violence against girls
We have a crisis in our hands. A crisis of sexual exploitation and abuse of girls. The global spotlight on ending child marriage in this decade has made us realise the magnitude of this human rights violation and justice issue. 12 million girls are married of each year, worldwide. This is almost the whole population of my country Zimbabwe.
The root causes have been traced to poverty and culture, failure for the provision of basic services and simple patriarchal attitude. It’s clear that the interventions required are more than just development, we need social justice. It’s a crime, it rape. The consequences of this practice are well documented in terms of health, education, trauma and increase in household poverty.
We have seen an unprecedented effort at the global level, and in Africa, the African Union has even launched a campaign to end child marriage, which I serve as the Goodwill Ambassador.
We have started to see a deeper involvement of faith and traditional leaders stepping up to turn the tide. However, just as we learnt with the HIV and AIDS response, real transformation happenes when people directly affected are at the forefront.
I am making a call out today to the YMCA movement to join this global effort, You bring an extraordinary resource to the table, over 11,000 local and national associations, a powerful voice of young people and leaders from across the globe. An opportunity for the resocialisation of men and boys that real men do not abuse girls.
My mother died without closure at age 83. She wished she was not married off to my father, that she had an opportunity to continue with her education. He struggles to raise us, made me establish Rozaria Memorial Trust in 2006.
Today we reach thousands of girls with services, and we are constructing a counselling and education centre in Murewa Zimbabwe, where we will run programmes to prevent child marriage and also support those young women who have experienced child marriage. Practical support is essential, and this is why I also established the Girls Opportunity Fund in order to mobilise local financial and other resources to provide educational assistance or business or income generating opportunities to the girls as they rebuild their lives.
We know that we can not achieve social and economic empowerment for these in these extremely poor conditions without resourcing their innovation and their courage to rebuild their lives. I invite you to journey with me in this endeavour.
In conclusion, I want to leave you with some recommendations and some thoughts.
I. We must move beyond scaling up the status quo, to delivering a truly transformative agenda.
II. Exploring approaches in which youth empowerment and rights shifts from vulnerability, to leadership and organising. Beyond positional power to influencing.
III. Harnessing the power of local rootedness, global reach, authentic history and massive numbers for impact and structural/systems/policy change.
IV. Use of evidence research in policy advocacy on social and global justice which is youth lead, beyond the provision of services
V. Leveraging the power of technology and the media for advocacy and influencing.
VI. Deepening the safe and empowering spaces for skilling, organising and engaging.
Indeed struggle for injustice is the struggle for human rights, the fight against discrimination and inequality. It is the imperative of the movement, to young people, and to such intergenerational movements like the YMCAs.
Yet again thank you.
Founder & Chief Executive of Rozaria Memorial Trust.
She is former World YWCA General Secretary (2007-2016).
She serves as African Union Goodwill Ambassador on Ending Child Marriage.