“Education for All! Education is a right!”.
This has been the clarion call of youth advocates, student leaders and unions, and youth organizations alike. In the great halls of democratic institutions (parliaments, senates, national assemblies) and on the streets, young people are demanding that policy-makers, decision-makers and development partners work together to lay the foundations of quality education, the key to achieving a better life and future for every child and young person across the globe.
Though these calls have bonded youth and students worldwide to campaign for the attainment of SDG 4, the challenge of bringing them together under one constituency to represent a cohesive stakeholder group is one of the greatest aspirations of youth, students and supporters alike.
Creating a global youth civil society constituency in education
As a former student-leader and an active campaigner for youth development, I have been working for the past several years with various stakeholders in creating meaningful spaces for youth within international NGOs, the United Nations, intergovernmental organizations, and civil society groups.
Creating these spaces is indeed challenging as there are deterrents from institutions and even the youth themselves. However, we continue to move forward to carry out the mission of making this aspiration a reality and unlocking a world of possibilities.
First global civil society youth caucus
In late June 2018, I was given the chance to work with fellow young people to unlock the possibility of starting a youth constituency in education and establish a youth board member seat within the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) – the largest global civil society movement on education.
I was designated to be part of the GCE Youth Working Group and to attend the Youth Caucus Preparatory Committee at GCE’s 6th World Assembly last November in Kathmandu, Nepal. Preparations towards the Youth Caucus took four months, with youth representatives working together with the GCE Secretariat and its Board.
During the Youth Caucus proper, we saw solidarity between regional and global leaders in the education sector and young people, discussing together global education issues and how to address these in partnership with young people.
This included lively discussions between young people from the global north and from the south on expanding our role within GCE. We wanted to ensure that, in establishing a constituency, we do it right.
We discussed and drafted policy motions on how to support a youth nominee for GCE’s board, the European Students Union, to articulate the voice of youth with GCE. The Youth Caucus Preparatory Committee articulated outcome documents and policy motions to the broader GCE World Assembly.
Deputy UN Secretary General inspires young people to secure their representation in global bodies
As guest of honor at the GCE World Assembly, UN Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed spoke directly to youth delegates. Her advice to us? That young people should push forward the boundaries of youth representation – aim for 30% youth representation in decision-making bodies and be disruptive with the status quo.
It struck our hearts and gave us the energy to further our goals: instead of being content with just one youth seat within the GCE Board, we decided to expand the youth representation to two seats. It also inspired one of the youth delegates from Norway to run for a regular seat in the board.
At the end of the board elections and deliberations, I’m was very happy to see that youth now have 2 representatives on the GCE Board – one by the virtue of the allocated youth seat and one by the virtue of pursuit of a regular seat. Meanwhile, another seat for the youth has been established – dedicated for the youth from the Global South and will be filled in the next special World Assembly meeting.
CSOs doing more to integrate young people into national and regional coalitions
There was strong youth representation within country and regional coalitions, with some of their youth delegates delivering policy motions and voting on behalf of their delegations. On an equal basis, youth delegates debated with veteran activists, teacher union leaders, seasoned education experts and advocates in an effort to co-construct the future direction of the GCE movement.
As part of the GCE – US delegation, I too was able to share my thoughts, debate with veteran civil society leaders, and vote on the policy motions. Meanwhile, regional secretariats have promised that within two years they will put in place mechanisms to integrate youth and student regional representation in their governance structures.
The start of a ripple effect
With these momentous developments, a ripple effect was started. The possibility to create global structures for youth constituency in intergovernmental partnership bodies like in the Global Partnership for Education and UN Education 2030 Steering Committee can and should now be explored further. This is also true for regional bodies like the African Union, SAARC, ASEAN and the like.
Here are some key takeaways in my youth advocacy journey leading up to the GCE Youth Caucus and the 6th World Assembly that the youth must remember:
- Remember your non-negotiables- you cannot compromise your basic beliefs in negotiating for social change. Only through principled and unwavering leadership can a negotiation be done with maximum efficiency.
- With the haystack of deterrents, find a champion for your causes within what may seem like a closed system – for closed governance systems or highly politicized environment, a strategic partner or an enabler can be key to create an opening for change. However, do not be disillusioned if your strategic partner does not agree with you always. Stick to the limits of your partnership.
- In negotiations, situations are not black or white – you must measure your campaigns not in a binary measurement but in percentages from 0 to 100%. Youth must have the resilience and the tenacity to continue to push on one step at a time.
- The youth need to have microscopic, telescopic and panoramic view on issues to have sound, informed, and well-thought out decisions and actions. We must see all perspectives and angles to analyze carefully and reach sound decisions.
- Gather the greatest and broadest of forces to draw the sharpest line - these words I borrow from colleagues at the University of the Philippines’ Student Councils, as pushing forward youth involvement needs supportive allies, without which decision-makers and non-state actors cannot be pressured. International solidarity, grassroots initiatives and civil society movements must resonate with young people’s concerns and create spaces for their engagement.