The Voice of Youth: How Youth Can Take on a Critical Role in Human Rights Advocacy

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Monday, April 13, 2015 to Friday, April 17, 2015
Conversation type: 

Summary available

Young people make up an ever-growing portion of the world’s population. As of 2014, the number of youth, ages 10-24, rose to nearly 1.8 billion, or slightly less than 25 percent of the world population. As youth compose a greater share of the population, questions emerge about the role youth will play in addressing the issues relevant to their future. Empowering youth to engage and take an active role in advocacy can play a critical role in societal change and improving human rights. Thus, organizations increasingly seek new ways to engage youth in civil society.

New Tactics in Human Rights through its online conversation, The Voice of Youth: How Youth Can Take on a Critical Role in Human Rights Advocacy, discusses ways how youth are involved in social change, address the challenges to their interests and the role of human rights organizations and practitioners in empowering youth.

Tactical Examples Shared to engage Youth

Foundations of Youth Engagement

The United Nations for statistical purposes defines ‘youth’ as those persons between the ages of 15 to 24, without prejudice to other definitions by Member States. Participants have put forward three principal elements that should be taken into consideration when aiming to strengthen youth participation: capacity, motivation and opportunity. Capacity includes the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that youth need in order to participate effectively. Motivation is the desire or willingness of individual youth to participate, and possibly to commit to involvement or action over the longer term. Opportunity refers to any situation where youth can participate effectively.

It is important to facilitate true youth driven actions. Tools like Global/Local Service-Learning, grants and organizations like People To People International  (PTPI) having youth forums encourage youth engagement. By including youth in the decision making processes, empowering them to have a voice, and leveraging their creativity and energy, will provide change for the better.

Fostering Transformative Relationships between Peers, Mentors and Leaders

To maintain youth engagement, peer mentoring partnerships are encouraged. By sharing difficulties with persons who face the same struggles, allows participants to recognize that they are not alone and to learn from each other’s experiences. Having experienced mentors are important as mentors can open doors to opportunities, give crucial guidance about career decisions, and provide valuable insight.

A youth advisory council, youth philanthropy, and creating touch-points for those who had attended youth programs together has also been recommended. Key factors that influence the level of youth participation are a sense of belonging, a sense of safety and a welcoming environment, the opportunity to play an active role, having a goal/responsibility, activities, accessibility, consistent meetings, and other incentives.

Developing Leadership and Empowerment Among Youth

Apart from programs offering  "hard skills" such as organizational management, social media marketing, social entrepreneurship, and finance management, offering training in "soft skills" such as communication skills, managing difficult conversations and interpersonal conflict are just as important. Organizations have to develop and design youth projects and programs by defining youth's ownership and responsibility. By giving them ownership and responsibility, this would motivate youth to actively engage and to make an impact in the decision making process.

Barriers to Youth Engagement and Moving Beyond them

The known barriers are the feeling of hopelessness, a lack of feeling trusted with learning about and understanding “real life” issues, apathy among adults, lack of knowledge on how to advocate and affect change, sustaining momentum and membership are some of the barriers to youth engagement that were discussed by the participants to the conversation.

Social media like Twitter and Facebook can be utilized to bring youth’s awareness and engagement  with  social causes. It is important for youth to be empowered with education and training to build their self-esteem and ensuring that their decisions are important and their ideas taken seriously to overcome the barriers. For successful youth involvement, it is important to involve their families and traditional and religious leaders in the process.

Creating Spaces for Creativity in Youth Activism

Digital space is very useful to youth as a means of communication, to take action, and to provide visibility to youth’s work. It is important to empower youths to create their own space while providing tools to support the process.  Several methods to foster creativity and critical thinking were discussed by the participants to the conversation such as simulation exercises and reflection activities.



Finding a great mentor

A Ladder of Citizen Participation

1 UNFPA. State of World Population 2014: The Power of 1.8 Billion. New York, NY: United Nations Publication, 2014. UNFPA. Web. <>.

Photo Credit: Pasu Au Yeung (License)

Conversation Leaders

NPalasz's picture
Nicole Palasz
Institute of World Affairs
hdelagran's picture
Equitas--International Centre for Human Rights Education
shahiddisu's picture
Rashid Zuberu
Young Peace Brigades/ UNOY Peacebuilders
wolfd's picture
Dina M wolf
Institute of World Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
aliselena's picture
Alis Costescu
Ratiu Center for Democracy (Romania)
imranlaghari's picture
Imran Khan Laghari
Human Rights Alliance HRA Pakistan
Nejeed's picture
Nejeed Kassam's picture
Matthew Hughes
People to People International
AubreyCox's picture
Aubrey Cox
United States Institute of Peace
Nicole Worozbyt's picture
Nicole Worozbyt
London Youth Advisory Council
angvang's picture
Angela Vang
Saint Paul Central
Hawi Tilahune's picture
Hawi Tilahune
Macalester College
anniehernandez's picture
Annie Hernandez
Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation/Youth Philanthropy Connect
Leonward's picture
Leon Ward
Plan UK
Saman Alavi's picture
Saman Alavi