12 August: International Day of Youth

A little less conversation, a little more action please!

, by Peter Matjašič

12 August: International Day of Youth

Today we celebrate the International Day of Youth, an annual event declared by the United Nations in its resolution 54/120 with the aim of celebrating all the hard work and achievements of the young people who actively contribute to society. Moreover, this year there’s an additional element to rejoice about, namely the start of the second UN International Year of Youth in 25 years, lasting until August 2011 and aiming to advance the full and effective participation of young people in all aspects of society.

While welcoming the fact that we actually have an International Day of Youth I cannot help but wonder if it helps our cause having it in the middle of August, when most people, especially decision-makers are in their summer recess. Most active young people and youth NGOs also like take this chance to recharge their batteries around this time as well, thus the advocacy and lobbying effect that such an international day could have is unfortunately diminished. One potential bright side might be however, that those who are still active during this period will get rewarded with better media coverage than usual as there is simply generally less action in the political, economic and cultural sphere of a given society, thus opening the door for youth events and youth issues to future more prominently in the media.

International Year of Youth: a new opportunity

Given that this year’s edition of the International Youth Day also marks the start of the second UN International Year of Youth (for children and young people aged 15 to 24), it should get a bit more visibility, though in the absence of a real European public sphere and media, as this is again left to national public spheres and their media channels. In Tunisia, for example, this day is very much a big deal, as the idea for calling this year of youth under the theme “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding” was brought forward and pushed by the Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In Slovenia and many other places it barely got picked up by media outlets, except the National Press Agencies.

It is not what happens today that is important, but rather what will happen during this international year of youth and what kind of opportunities will be given to young people and youth-led organisations to actually promote their work and increase their engagement in practice. This will depend both on the framework provided by the governments and agencies as well as by the youth NGOs in taking advantage of the given possibilities. Many have done a great job already today by organising street picnics (e.g. the Eurotastic picnic organised by the three Belgian youth councils, the Belgian EU Youth Presidency and the United Nations in Brussels led by UNICEF), celebrations in main city squares (e.g. the Croatian Youth Network’s street festival featuring films dealing with youth topics and an activity called “If I’d be a Minister for a day”) or by simply issuing press releases on the importance of the work being done by, for and with young people!

Young people have a voice and it’s time to use it!

Our main motto: BY, FOR and WITH young people!

By young people: youth participation, active citizenship and volunteering are the cornerstones of youth involvement which motivates hundreds of thousands of young people in making millions of young people’s lives better, more qualitative and meaningful. Such genuine engagement, based on passion rather than getting paid, is a precious basis for our society. Youth work, or more broadly civil society engagement, is as meaningful for those that benefit from it as for those that engage themselves to help others or to change our society. The experience you get is invaluable for personal development, skills enhancement and even your employability.

For young people: it’s not only youngsters working for other young people; it’s also the responsibility of our leaders and society as a whole to take care of its youth. Despite an existing objective for a wider inter-generational dialogue, at least at European level, in many countries we still experience a patronising attitude of elderly generations towards the so-called youth category. Those who were once young and fought for their rights – e.g. the fames baby-boom generation – are now selfishly pursuing their own interest without much consideration for the consequences this might have for future generation and find it hard to understand why it’s so important to include young people in all forms of decision-making. Of course Europe is a very diverse place and thus some countries and/or regions are tackling this better than others.

With young people: better cooperation with and taking the views and positions of youth-led organisations, especially national youth councils and international youth NGOs as well as youth representatives in decision-making processes at all levels better into account. The so-called structured dialogue mustn’t be an empty phrase but a process that should be filled with proper and relevant content leading to concrete outputs and results when it comes to improving the life and well-being of young people be it at local, regional, national, European and/or global level.

If we want to be taken seriously and listened to by the decision-makers, media and other age groups in society we need to stay true to our motto, lead by example and also be willing to take on the responsibility that comes with being involved and taking part in decision-making processes.

Young people have a voice and it’s time to use it! Not only doing this by demanding that we are heard, but also by working on further developing the voice of young people on a range of topics and be willing to fight for our positions. What better a way to start then by seizing the opportunities provided by the International Day of Youth and the International Year of Youth.

Image: The Official Logo of the International Year of Youth; source: United Nations

Further reading:

- Young people celebrate International Youth Day with “Picnic Eurotastic”, Belgian EU Presidency
- International Youth Day Celebration on Zagreb streets, source:Croatian Youth Network
- Let’s Celebrate Youth: It’s Your World, Your Voice, Your Year, Press Release of the European Youth Forum (YFJ)

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