From the front lines to the front office: Youth call for greater role in humanitarian decision-making
Imagine a world where communities hit by major disasters suffer minimal losses and recover quickly; a world in which people trapped by armed conflict get the help they need; and a world in which humanitarian volunteers are respected and protected. Imagine that the most vulnerable citizens have access to skills-based education, basic health care and a way to make their own living, even in areas struggling to adjust to severe climate changes.
In Sydney, Australia, 198 young, front-line humanitarian volunteers from 116 countries gathered this week for the Red Cross Red Crescent Global Youth Conference (GYC). According to them, these goals are more likely to be achieved if the experience and skills of young people are fully integrated into humanitarian response and decision-making.
Hosted this year by the Australian Red Cross, the GYC preceded the Statutory Meetings of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. During the Statutory Meetings, more than 1,000 delegates from National Societies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and the International Committee of the Red Cross come together to discuss contemporary humanitarian issues.
The youth leaders, many of whom work in places hard-hit by conflict and natural disaster, issued a declaration urging governments and humanitarian organizations to better protect and support young volunteers, to remove bureaucratic barriers that inhibit humanitarian youth engagement, and to give youth a voice in charting the course of humanitarian action. Together, they developed strategies regarding the role of youth in meeting the world’s toughest humanitarian challenges; working towards achieving key United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for alleviating poverty, improving education and providing health care; and contributing to the global post-2015 development agenda.
“Young people are on the front lines of unrest, war, violence, natural disaster and poverty. They are affected by these challenges, and they are responding,” said Ashanta Osborne Moses, chair of the IFRC Global Youth Commission. Youth are often best placed to respond to new cultural, technological and humanitarian challenges. But they are too often not perceived to have the expertise and understanding to be involved in strategic or operational decisions, Moses notes. “We are only achieving a small portion of what we have the potential to do because our young people are not fully part of the decision-making process.”
Young people make up more than half of the total number of Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers worldwide and play an important role both in delivering humanitarian aid and in changing attitudes and behaviours among their peers.
With the MDGs being reviewed by UN member states in 2015, the IFRC launched a consultation to identify which humanitarian and developmental priorities should guide its work in coming years. The Your Voice voting platform, through which people are invited to voice their ideas and hopes for the future, launched on International Youth Day.
Presenting the recently-finalised Youth Engagement Strategy, Chris Kwong from the Australian Red Cross noted, “this strategy will help young people become agents of change within their communities. It is vital that adequate educational opportunities, empowerment and an enabling environment for action be provided to young volunteers.”
Commission members highlighted challenges that inhibit youth impact: governmental and humanitarian leaders who are often sceptical of youth and youth culture; youth who sometimes do not act or speak out; and lack of opportunities to develop skills and potential for leadership. “We need to be actors in proactively preventing crisis and emergencies, and in working to create cultures of understanding and peace, not just responding during crisis,” said Dr. Amal Emam from the Egyptian Red Crescent Society.
“Inequality, poverty, social marginalization — many of these issues come down to education,” noted Nataliia Vasyliuk, the Ukrainian Red Cross Society representative. “We need to develop the skills within youth volunteer networks to educate their communities and develop local economies.”