Youth are demanding a better tomorrow for all
More initiatives are needed to protect student leaders and youth activists who are at the forefront of progressive social movements.
September 12, 2019 by Frederikke Høgsgaard, Danish National Coalition for Education, Felipe Urbas and Julia Sestier, Global Campaign for Education|
A technical education class specializing in business administration. Colombia.
CREDIT: © Charlotte Kesl / World Bank

In August, we celebrated both International Youth Day and World Humanitarian Day. Unfortunately, for many young people across the world, these simply merged into one. How can Youth Day be a celebration when in Sudan five high-school students were shot dead and more than 60 wounded, some by snipers, when they rallied against fuel and bread shortages?

Last month, students across the world were marching the streets fighting for their right to education and for our freedoms, democracy and human rights. In Hong-Kong, youth started a mass movement. In Brazil, in a climate of threats, censorship and attacks on the right to education and democratic institution, students and youth alongside teachers’ unions and civil society organisations are leading the struggle against an increasingly repressive government. (Read this powerful blog by Andressa Pellanda and Gabriel Morais of the Brazilian Campaign for the Right to Education). 

In Algeria, students are entering their 25th week of mobilisation, tirelessly demanding a regime change and democracy. In Nicaragua, students have resumed their protests in spite of the ban imposed since last September, and in Colombia, youth are actively protesting against the killing of activists.

Protecting young activists

In this context, we call global civil society’s attention: If we want a more just world, we must protect the youth who are fighting for it!

Democracy cannot be successfully imposed but is built by critical free minds and by those who dare to stand at the forefront to demand a better tomorrow. These are often young people and students.

More initiatives are needed to protect student leaders and youth activists who are at the forefront of progressive social movements. The Student at Risk Programme has successfully protected student leaders of higher education who experience persecution, threats or expulsion by offering scholarships allowing students to finalize their studies, expand their global network and return as stronger activists. But the number of scholarships is limited and the needs comprehensive.

Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) aims to ensure quality education for all. SDG target 4.7 promotes global citizenship and education for sustainable development and 4.B aims to substantially expand the number of scholarships globally. These scholarships could be dedicated to protecting the change makers of this world and to connect students across continents to engage in the global struggle to protect human rights. We must protect the leaders of tomorrow and ensure they do not have to resign their chances to get an education.

Giving youth their place in policy-making

We must also ensure that youth are included in decision making processes as equals. Why are youth, who are relied on to defend democracy and human rights by marching in the streets, still excluded from policy making, particularly on education?  Today, there are 1.2 billion young people aged 15 to 24 years, accounting for 16% of the world’s population. Can we really say that we are transforming education if youth and students are not included in shaping education policy?

In February 2019, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) published the “Youth and the Agenda for Sustainable Development” report, which explores the role of youth in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the realisation of SDG 4. 

The report states that: “the active engagement of youth in sustainable development efforts is central to achieving sustainable, inclusive and stable societies by the target date.” The report further underlines the need “to strengthen youth participation mechanisms to facilitate young people’s engagement in policies and activities that enhance sustainable development efforts”. 

Some concrete ways of utilising the knowledge, experience and expertise of the youth in the design, implementation and evaluation of education policy are:

  • Increasing youth involvement in national sustainable development coordination councils;
  • Involving national youth councils;
  • Expanding opportunities for youth representation in international forums;
  • Ensuring that young people contribute to voluntary national reviews of SDG 4.

Across the Global Partnership for Education and the world, youth are working to make sure their voices are heard. For example, the Global Campaign for Education has been working actively to include youth in the movement, and to bring more youth voices at the forefront of education advocacy initiatives. Youth leaders across the partnerships are also taking part in the UNGEI youth-powered #TransformEducation Campaign. 

What if youth were able to participate in policy making on education in the same way they march with raised arms at the forefront of the movement for progressive social change?


United Nations, World Population Prospects 2017, available from

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