Election Speech at the YFJ GA

Dear friends,

I stand in front of you as a candidate for president of the YFJ. I am honored to have been nominated to this position and I am very happy to have this opportunity to share with all of you my ideas and vision for our common platform.

The YFJ is a unique platform, a platform of youth organisations. We are strong! But we need to become stronger. We need to use this net of cooperation to strengthen each other and to strengthen the platform. We should do this to be stronger in the fight for the rights and wellbeing of all young Europeans.

Right now the YFJ should more than ever turn outwards in order to have a positive impact on the surrounding society. In times of crisis we need to defend the rights of young people and make sure that the young people in Europe play an active role in building our society.

The European Youth Forum has for twenty years worked for a better Europe and a better world. In many ways we have been successful. We have been successful because our platform is the sum of a great variety of organizations, representing a great variety of young people.

From the north of Norway to the southern shores of Sicily, from the Atlantic coast of Portugal to the Far East city of Vladivostok, we represent young people with the most different kinds of backgrounds, ambitions and perspectives. And not only do we span a great geographical variety. The diversity of the type of organizations present here is also considerable.

From right to left, from party political to non aligned, from smaller to bigger organisations, our Platform is proof that young people with differences can come together united in a common belief in the importance to work for a better Europe. A Europe free of discrimination. A Europe free of prejudice. A European society that enables young people to fulfill their dreams and fully participate in society.

This, my friends, is a great strength.

A key factor in this struggle for a better Europe for young people is a strong youth civil society. Youth organisations are the most effective and strongest way of representing young people. Therefore, the YFJ needs to work even more with building the capacity of all MOs, advocating for sufficient funding being available and that legislation is favorable to youth organisations.

And how do we frame this fight for a better Europe for young people? The first step is strong advocacy for youth rights. Here I am not only talking about the rights of young people who are members of the organisations we represent, but of the rights of all young people.

The financial and economic crisis has hit the young people of Europe hard. What we now observe is that unemployment is high, possibilities for young entrepreneurs are limited and the working conditions for many young people are precarious. Social exclusion is a growing problem. The existence of youth organizations is threatened due to limited government budgets.

The list is long, I could go on.

This crisis, as it looks, is not disappearing. And while this crisis continues, we need to be aware that the crisis is not only a financial crisis, but also a crisis of democracy, rule of law and human rights. As we know, young people are an especially vulnerable group in society and we need to be strong in our advocacy and communicate our message loud and clear. We must work against multiple discrimination and against the discrimination of different groups of young people. We are very different, but we all belong to the same demographic group, and this ties us together. Young peoples rights must be recognized and no one except for us will push this forward!

One of the biggest challenges that young people are facing is unemployment. It is our role to fight this.

Fight for fair internships, internships with real learning dimensions and good working conditions.

Fight for a youth guarantee being implemented in all of Europe. A youth guarantee with enough resources and real involvement of youth organisations.

Fight for better possibilities for setting up own businesses for young people.

Fight for fair labor legislation and real investments into creating quality jobs.

And to do this we must also work for participation. To change our surrounding society it is crucial that the voice of young people is heard. This includes working for non-formal education opportunities and for opportunities for volunteering. We need to increase participation because we know that if the only ones participating are the baby boomer generation, it will become a threat to both the democratic system and against the fulfillment of rights and needs of young people.

Youth participation was concretely seen at the European Youth Event last spring. At the EYE we saw 5 000 young people at the European Parliament, taking the floor and expressing their opinions on the future of Europe. Delivering a strong message to the politicians in Europe. This was also the moment when I decided that I want to be a part of leading this platform forward.

Youth participation is not only voting, but voting is an essential part of youth participation. The League of Young Voters is a good first step in working for young people being empowered to vote in elections and take part in discussions in society. This is something that needs to continue.

A key to youth participation is Strong Youth Organizations. Nothing can enhance youth participation and representation of young people towards decision makers as well as youth organisations. Our work has not finished here, we need to constantly reach out more and include more people into our organizations!

To achieve all these goals we need to sharpen our advocacy work as a platform. Create goals that are clear and measurable. And focus our goals so that they are truly achieved.

I want our platform to embrace equality and inclusion, only if we live like we preach can we affect society in the right direction.

I believe in this platform and our capacity to fight for a better Europe for young people.

Dear friends, I want to build an even stronger European Youth Forum together with all of you!

Thank you.

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Let’s make the YFJ an organization that lives what it preaches!

In a world that is increasingly polarized, the value of values and the ways we do things are more important than ever. In this blog post I will share my main ideas on how I see the YFJ should work in the future.

Being a strong advocacy platform has always been an important element in our work. In order to achieve the results we want, it is time to focus on our main topics. This requires a thorough discussion about where the YFJ is the best advocate, and where individual youth organizations have better expertise, contacts and position to change certain issues. In this process it is also crucial to better evaluate our actual impact on youth policy. This is related to continuously monitoring the living conditions and possibilities of young people. For example, why couldn’t we create sort of “score cards” for youth policy in all the European countries? This way it would be easier to know the situation in each country and follow all the developments.

The YFJ, however, is not only about external advocacy work. What makes us a unique platform is that we are composed of youth organizations and represent young people from across Europe. Therefore, we must also commit some of our energy to internal work. We advocate for equality and greater possibilities in the societies around us, and this should also be reflected on the internal environment of the YFJ. The first step is approving the Code of Conduct but the work cannot stop there! We must work with the implementation of the Code of Conduct and after evaluate the results of this work. We must commit to making the YFJ a safe space where we can discuss, agree, disagree, learn and together decide on the agenda of our common platform. Making YFJ a space where everyone feels appreciated and welcome is also important in regard to our communication channels. These channels should be clear and accessible to everyone active in the YFJ. An evaluation of the existing channels needs to be done soon and we also need to make the communication and registration of events easier.

These are the main issues that I think we should focus on when it comes to how the YFJ works. We must make sure that we are functioning internally if we want to make a lasting impact on the society around us. Most importantly, we should not forget who we are: we are young people working for the rights and wellbeing of all young people in Europe. In this way we are unique, and we should capitalize on this!

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Employment – the biggest challenge for Europe

If we do not have jobs, what are we supposed to do? Having access to a quality employment gives us economic and social stability and a possibility to live a more full life. And the question is not just about having a job or not. It’s also about whether you have a job that can be called decent or a quality job. Work is also not just about providing income. Work can also open the way for further personal advancement and empowering individuals and communities.

But what are quality jobs or decent work? According to the ILO decent work qualifies as something that e.g. delivers a fair income, security, prospects for personal development and social integration and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

The situation of youth unemployment in Europe doesn’t need to be outlined. A far too big part of the youth of Europe does not have access to quality jobs. The job-situation in Europe is in general gloomy, but I do want to point out that the unemployment rate for those under 25 is 2,6 times higher than the rest of the population. This is a devastating number and clearly shows that youth are one of the groups more vulnerable for social and economical disparities than the adult population.

I feel that we should not dwell in this situation for too long, but think of concrete answers and solutions to get rid of this threat that is exhausting Europe’s youth today. What should be done and what is the role of the European Youth Forum in this struggle?

Fighting for quality jobs for young people should be in the core of the work of the European Youth Forum. As I see it, taking up this fight and truly working for more and better jobs for young people is not only a possibility, but our duty. However, working against unemployment and for quality jobs can’t be tackled with just one solution. Just as societies, also young people and jobs are all different to each other. This is why we must at all times stay agile and ready for new openings when we see the menace of unemployment approaching.

The youth guarantee is not only about combatting youth unemployment, but also about making sure that young people are not marginalized and have a place to study, work or get trained. I believe the youth guarantee is a good tool in both creating social stability in societies as well as in making sure young people are oriented towards jobs and education. Right now there is a political momentum around implementing the youth guarantee. The YFJ should continue to push for more resources to the youth guarantee, a true and better implementation and making sure that youth organisations are involved in the implementation and evaluation of the youth guarantee. This is to make sure that the actual target group of the youth guarantee, the youth themselves, also have their voice heard in the process.

Fighting for internships that are not exploiting young people as free or cheap labor, but that have clear educational purposes and goals is important in today’s Europe. More than 50% of all young people in Europe have done an internship and most of them are unpaid and taking place under degrading conditions. Continuing the fight for quality internships should be done through partly raising awareness and working together with institutions and companies and partly to start a focused advocacy for legislation outlining the conditions around internships. Besides their problematic nature, unpaid internships are also creating disparity between young people of different socio-economic backgrounds.

Promoting entrepreneurship and self-employment is one way of creating jobs. Making it easier for young people to start their own businesses and receiving support acts a key role in this process. Working for more entrepreneurship is though / however not the only solution to unemployment – one cannot assume that all young people are willing or have the capacity to create their own business. Entrepreneurship cannot either be used as an escape route for failed job creation.

Adding to these areas of advocacy around youth employment, there are also countries in Europe where the labor legislation clearly discriminates young people e.g. in terms of different minimum wages. This is unacceptable. Fighting age-based discrimination is important in all areas of life, also when it comes to access to quality jobs.

These are the issues I believe the YFJ should focus on when fighting for quality jobs for young people. This is a fight we need to pick up now and make sure we are the loudest voice when it comes to defending the right to quality jobs.

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Keynote speech on Young Peoples Access to Rights

I had the great opportunity to have the keynote speech during the EU Youth Conference in October 2014. I wanted to share the speech also through this blog…

Keynote speech – EU Youth conference – Rome, 14 October 2014

Johanna Nyman

It’s a honour to have this possibility to speak to you about young peoples access to rights!

Youth in a global world

Youth throughout the world have been actors, promoters and victims of the huge recent events in Turkey, Egypt, Brazil and Spain, just to name a few. At the same time, a significant number of hate crimes and acts of vandalism are still carried out by young people. Youth is both a great resource and a great force. The question we pose to our selves is why? I think this behaviour could stem from the lack of possibilities that young people have in the fulfilment of their potential. The feeling of not having the power to affect ones own life and the feeling of not having access to rights.

It is therefore believed that creating real opportunities, of breaking this cykle of frustration. Creating a future of hope and possibilities. This lays the foundation for a secure and peaceful society that breaks this cycle of frustration. Ensuring the involvement of young people in the political and socio-economic life of their societies and supporting youth organisations in their work for equality and social cohesion. This will bring social change as well as contribute to creating just and peaceful societies.

This is what I hope we can discuss today, concrete steps in how young people can have access to their rights.

Youth: a problem of definition

Many times the questions when talking about youth rights is, what age defines young people?

I will not answer you with numbers, but I want to highlight that all young people are very different, we are a heterogeneous group. Young people may be in education, we may have a job or they may be unemployed. Many of us live with their families; others have left home and live alone, with a partner, or with friends. Some have children of their own. We are different when it comes to nationality, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, background, beliefs, gender… you name it.

Although the notion of “youth” does not lend itself to a unique or clear-cut definition, young people have specific needs and face similar challenges. They constitute a group of individuals located somewhere between childhood and adulthood; they form a distinct demographic group which should not be conceptualised using upper and lower age limits but rather as a life cycle during which people undergo a process of transition; they attempt to enhance their educational and vocational credentials, gain a foothold in the labour market, establish their household and family, acquire a degree of financial independence and move away from the family home. In each of these spheres some young people are more vulnerable than others.

Despite being perhaps the highest-educated, technically-advanced, and most mobile generation ever, today’s young people do not necessarily share the same opportunities as the rest of society.

With increasing levels of participation in higher education, young people are spending longer periods dependent on the state or their families for financial support, and without earned incomes of their own. Still, when young people do enter the labour market, they may spend considerable periods without a job or in low-waged or insecure employment.

In an ageing society, the 15-29 age group is projected to represent 15.3 % of EU’s population in 2050, whereas it is currently just over 18%. Climate change and globalisation bring about additional challenges for young people. All these changes have made the transition to adulthood and autonomy all the more complex and prolonged.

Multiple discrimination

Young people frequently face injustices on the grounds of their age mainly in the areas of information, inclusion, employment and mobility. Inequalities are particularly visible when young people are acceding to the labour market. Although the 2000 “Employment Equality” directive forbids discrimination based on age, unemployment rate of people under 25 is currently 2.6 times that of the rest of the population. Meanwhile, young people may be exposed to “multiple discrimination” because of their ethnic origins, convictions, religious beliefs, sex or gender, sexual preferences, physical and mental condition.

This means that effective approaches to tackling discrimination must take into account multiple identities, rather than categories such as age, ethnicity, or disability alone. We are all complex individuals, we can not be put into one single box. Our identity being composed of different facets, one of them is age.

Whatever the origins, the impacts of discrimination affecting young people are likely to be marginalisation, social exclusion, lack of access, and increased likelihood of poverty and lack of power. However, within human rights law and international treaties, young people are not always recognised as a separate group that experiences discrimination. A special focus on their rights is therefore required.

Young people should now be victimized, but empowered

Recognizing, protecting, empowering youth rights

In Europe and the world today, there is a need to recognise young people as a demographic group, between childhood and adulthood, with specific needs. A rights-based youth policy should strive to actively promote the autonomy of young people as well as their full participation in society. Protection against discrimination should be strengthened and specific measures to include young people with fewer opportunities in society need to be put in place.

When talking about youth rights, the European Youth Forum refers to the full enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms by young people. There needs to be a recognition and conceptualisation of youth rights in order to create pressure and understanding that can give birth to the possibilities for young people to have access to their rights. Promoting Youth Rights certainly means promoting equality of opportunity and this could be done also through positive discrimination for young people.

Human rights instruments enshrining the rights of specific groups already exist; international and regional standards for women, children and persons with disabilities are very common. These instruments are based upon the acknowledgement that these distinct categories of the population bear needs that have not been effectively tackled by universal human rights documents. As is the cases above mentioned, this would empower young people to fight for their rights, while also making them active citizens ready and able to act as full and equal members of society.

In this field it is crucial that young people’s awareness of their rights is promoted and that youth organisations represent an essential actor in this regard, together with advocacy work to formulate and seek the best instruments to defend and recognise such rights.

Implementing young people’s access to rights is a cross-cutting policy task that involves diverse policy areas and decision-making levels: employment policies for quality job, protected mobility, active citizenship to empower young people and youth organisations, education, in particular recognising non-formal and informal learning.

Once young people can access and exercise their rights properly, they will also be better able to participate and contribute to social and political life. If we talk about the risk of a lost generation this is not only in economic terms, but mainly that we have to include all the precious energy, input and contributions of young people to society and their added value in politics.

We are a huge, untapped resource!

This is why the Youth Forum welcomes the integration of the Italian priority under overall topic of the Structured dialogue, which is youth empowerment for political participation.

Its interesting to highlight that some parallel institutional processes are taking place: the Council of Europe is drafting A Committee of ministers Recommendation on young people access to rights with a constant involvement of the youth organisations with the aim of having a strong political commitment in identifying the challenges and promoting adequate measure to cope with them. Very much relevant is also the exercise of mapping the barriers that young people face around their social inclusion conducted by the EU-CPE partnership on youth: this is the kind of exercise we need in order to provide evidence and develop relevant policies with the involvement of practitioners, researchers, youth organisations and decision makers.

Some reflections on the actual challenges faced by young people

Some first interesting reflections have been developed by youth organisations and institutions around the main challenges that young people face in accessing their rights and also areas on which youth is particularly vulnerable to human rights violations, including:

  • Youth Employment: participants noted that 73 million young people worldwide are looking for work and in Europe the unemployment rate for those under 25 is 2,6 times higher than the rest of the population. Employment is also often more precarious for youth with less guarantees and access to social protection schemes. There is also a huge problem with zero-hour contract and difficult working conditions. In some countries there is even not equal pay for equal work principle applied: young people have lower minimum wages. Unpaid and not quality internships is another huge challenge in this field.
  • Political rights: the age of access to political rights including voting and standing for political office is in some cases discriminatory. In some countries there are high age-limits for standing in certain elections. And also there is also a question if not allowing 16- and 17-year olds to vote is depriving them of their right to participate.
  • Education: difficulties in accessing education faced by those aged 15 are very much similar to those faced by the 18 and over group. In many countries when someone reaches 15 education is no longer mandatory and the ability to access the right to education faces even more challenges.
  • Military service: although the optional protocol to the convention on the rights of the child prohibits compulsory recruitment before the age of 18, many states allow voluntary military enlistment before that age. The right to conscientious objection must be also fully guaranteed everywhere
  • Health and health care, especially for young women: the right to confidentiality for youth seeking services related to sexual and reproductive rights is still not fulfilled with particular regards to transmitted diseases.
  • Youth in conflict with the law: negative image of youth in society can lead to policies that criminalise young pople – i.e. zero tolerance, strong criminalisation of soft drugs use, restriction of movement, freedom of assembly and association. Imprisonment in adult institutions and lack of rehabilitation and reintegration are also serious issues.
  • Gender gap in youth rights: young women have the highest unemployment rates, greater likelihood of dropping out form schools and are the least politically represented.
  • LGBT youth rights: a lot of attention must be paid for fulfilling the LGBT youth right to individual identity and freedom of living sexual orientation as well as fighting the multiple discrimination they are victims of.

Conclusions

This was a long list. But I wouldn’t go for an analysis of the gaps in the legal universal tools actually existing at international level nor a brief on the two important charters already existing on youth rights the American and the African – but let me say that human rights instruments enshrining the rights of specific groups already exist; international and regional standards for women, children and persons with disabilities are very common. These instruments are based upon the acknowledgement that these distinct categories of the population bear needs that have not been effectively tackled by universal human rights documents.

This is the time to start to acknowledge youth rights and work for the access to rights for all young people! What is needed is political attention and real commitments in many different policy fields.

A concrete step that can be taken by the EU is the establishment of an Ombudsman for young people, whose aim would be to end age discrimination by the EU and its bodies. This was supported by approximately 80 newly-elected MEPs when they pledged for the LoveYouthFuture manifesto during the European Parliament Elections.

Except for this there is the need to increase the access to the actual existing tool in Europe: the EU must sign as soon as possible the European Convention of Human Rights as well as the Social Charter. As many member states must as possible should ratify the Additional protocol of the social charter and allow citizens to use the collective complaint system in order to protect their social rights.

The role for youth organisations and civil society to play in these processes is huge, as well as the role of youth organisations in informing young people about their existing rights and empowering young people to claim their rights! Youth organizations must be strengthened in this work.

We have the rights, but we need to fight to have access to them!

Dear all,

To end, this is a unique moment to discuss the rights of young people and what can be done to make sure all young people have access to their rights. Lets make this a true dialogue and lets together create concrete proposals that will make our EU a more stabile and secure place for all!

Lets bring back the feeling of hope and possibilities.

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My take on the Structured Dialogue – A potential nightmare or a great tool?

The Structured Dialogue is an all but sexy name for a process that can seem both complicated and difficult to understand. But it is an important process that gives a channel to the opinions of young people to be heard. In short, it is a concrete tool for youth participation. A new cycle of Structured Dialogue (SD) has just begun, and a successful EU Youth Conference two weeks ago in Rome to launch the cycle.

As I see it, the point of the process is to make sure the voices of young people are heard when some of the decisions that affect their lives are taken. Of course the number of elements that the EU has powers in are limited, but we all know that many of the decisions made by the European Council heavily affect the policies on local, regional and national level.

The most visible challenge with the Structured Dialogue is that while young people are heard, it can often seem like we are not listened to. The conclusions and recommendations from the Structured Dialogue need to be implemented and this is a job for the EU and its member states. But also the YFJ as a platform, and its member organisations, should do more to push for the implementation of these recommendations. Having conclusions supporting the demands of representative youth organisations is a great tool in our advocacy!

There are also more technical, but not less important, issues that could improve the process of SD. For example we should make sure that there are national working groups in all the countries, that a big number of young people are included in to consultations and that both the youth organisations and representatives of ministries are present at the conferences and that the political outcomes of the process are clear. We should be careful of merely trying to include as many of “our words” as possible in the conclusions as the main thing is to think about what impact the conclusions can have on the lives of young people and to find a fitting strategy to influence the outcomes. Maybe making sure there are clear political targets for the outcomes of the Structured Dialogue and the implementation of these outcomes would be a way the YFJ could further strengthen the SD.

It is also important to remember that the Structured Dialogue is one way of communicating the opinions of young people to the European Council, but not directly to all other EU institutions. In other words the article 165 2e of the Lisbon Treaty is far from fulfilled and a lot is still to be done in creating more real youth participation towards the EU.

This means we have loads of work to do! But the Structured Dialogue is very useful tool and has great potential. We just need to push it in the right direction, take the fights needed and make sure our voices are loud in the process.

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Youth Rights – the umbrella of youth policy

European Youth Forum – for Youth Rights! Its clear enough, youth rights is the core of the work we are doing. The ideas of having a rights based approach and working with youth rights as a whole is creating an umbrella for all the different issues that are composing youth policies. It is all about participation, health, mobility, employment, education, volunteering, housing, non-discrimination, autonomy and freedom of expression.

As the YFJ we are working both with the different policy areas as well as with the overall framework of youth rights. We have been the first to push this agenda in the institutions and now is the time to make sure there are some results from this pushing!

The good news is that things are moving forward in all of the three main institutions, the Council of Europe, the EU and the UN. The work in the Council of Europe has been a long process with a number of recommendations and a good cooperation with parliamentarians from many countries. Now the drafting of a very much hand-on recommendation is in the pipeline. This recommendation is about concrete tools that can help young people to access their rights. In the UN there has been an interest shown from the High Commissioner of Human Rights and the discussions about the lack of a global legal framework on youth rights is once again picking up speed. This week there is a number of meetings on youth rights taking place in the UN, focusing re-launching youth rights in the UN and building alliances for future work! And last, but not least, the EUs Structured Dialogue is right now also focusing on youth rights and how to make sure young people in the EU have access to youth rights!

Young people do not deserve access to their rights, they have the right to it. Its up to use these momentums now!

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15th University on Youth and Development – my first!

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Last week the 15th University on Youth and Development (UYD) took place. For me it was a fascinating experience! 300 young people from 70 different countries gathering to discuss, learn and to have fun. In a world that seems to be more split than in a very long time, the UYD has an important role to play when it comes to creating bridges between continents and cultures and also in empowering more young people to stand up for their rights. We see various crises rolling over our globe and I know that the answer to many of them is, more cooperation, more dialogue and less prejudice and intolerance. The university was hosted in Mollina, Spain at the CEULAJ Youth Center. Having an event like this in Spain was in itself relevant, as the Spanish parliament passed a law closing the Spanish Youth Council (CJE) in its current form, just one week before the UYD started. This is a strong act against an open and active civil society and truly something that is not only the concern of young people in Spain, but should be a concern for all of us. In these times I think it is important that we together work for the reestablishment of the Spanish National Youth Council, in the form best suited for the situation. It is only through sharing experiences and knowledge, and standing united that we together can fight for the space to represent young people when decisions regarding their lives are taken. The now 15 year old UYD was all about this, standing together! The objectives, bridging gaps and creating a common dialogue around youth opportunities, was absolutely achieved. I believe that this cooperation must go on further and it was a pleasure to have the possibility to participate.

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