OPINION: We need youth advocates now more than ever

Inua Dada Founder Janet Mbugua (front left) with participants of the youth advocacy training program ...
Inua Dada Founder Janet Mbugua (front left) with participants of the youth advocacy training program at Trademark Hotel, Nairobi on March 30, 2021. PHOTO | COURTESY

We often associate advocacy with a dramatic event or impassioned cause and tend to think of advocacy on large scales, such as the rise of youth movements like #MyDressMyChoice in 2014 (that arose from indignation after a woman was stripped and assaulted for wearing a miniskirt) or #OccupyParliament in 2013 (which was a protest by civil society groups showing their anger at newly elected MPs demanding higher salaries).

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But as the UNICEF youth advocacy guide explains, advocacy can also be a small act, such as telling a friend not to bully, and encouraging your friends to do the same.

It can also be more independent such as researching and providing health information to a community leader to help promote healthy lifestyles; or it can be about communicating ideas, such as writing a blog or sharing your experiences. Advocacy can also be about changing rules or laws and organising legal demonstrations or rallies to support this cause.

Two weeks ago, I was invited for the launch of a youth advocacy training program by the Inua Dada Foundation. During the event, I was curious to find out what motivated the young men and women to sign up for the training program, particularly since Kenya’s youth have for a long time been deemed to be ‘passive’ in narratives that perpetuate alienation and marginalisation.

Youth barely involved in policy formulation

An analysis report titled Africa’s youth and prospects for inclusive development avers that although past decades have seen advances in terms of policy commitments to youth development — both nationally and regionally — such gains have not always been matched by actions on the ground.

The study further states that far too many young people are still jobless and struggle to access public resources and quality social services.

Subsequently, they are barely involved in policy formulation and program design as their participation in politics and decision-making is limited and often ad hoc.

The irony of this exclusion is that Kenya has 35.7 million people (75.1%) who are below 35 years, according to latest data from the 2019 census by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

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Moreover, as Abdalla Hamdok (Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa) states: “The yardstick for success of African countries will be adequately measured by future generations if policies are weighted against action to foster transformative and inclusive development.”

Training programs such as the #InuaDadaVoices seek to bridge the gap between policy makers and youth who want to make a change in their communities.

In the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, societal issues such as Gender Based Violence (GBV), mental health challenges, poverty and inadequate menstrual health  management have been exacerbated.

These are at the crux of the conversation for the youth advocacy program that seeks to train 250 young advocates by the end of June 2021. I asked some of the participants about their motivation for the advocacy training:

Molly Kaari Raichenah, co-founder of ANANI

“ANANI supports survivors of gender based violence through protection, resilience, empowerment, and livelihood engagement. We specifically work with rescue shelters as they are important transitional spaces for the survivors. I want to gain skills and knowledge on how to support survivors through advocacy and to connect with other workers in this space to create synergies. I believe it will impact my life through gaining a deeper understanding of how powerful advocacy is a tool for transformative change.”

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Elishibah Msengeti Poriot, founder of The Classroom Outside

“Every youth and adult, male and female, needs to be equipped with life skills such as self-awareness, self-mastery, critical thinking and decision-making in order to survive and thrive. Some of the issues that we cover at The Classroom Outside are issues that people struggle with on a daily basis but do not get a platform to learn and discuss formally and the impact is negative esteem, broken relationships, disillusionment and in some cases conflict and violence. I look forward to playing my role by empowering women, men, boys and girls with an understanding of themselves and each other as well as debunking some of the gender myths that lead to tension and conflict. People need to know their rights, responsibilities, limits and obligations as members of society. The role of parents, family and authority figures is also key in preventing gender based violence, and this is also an area where I hope to contribute knowledge, awareness and empowerment as an educator, trainer, and writer and facilitator.”

Nyokabi Ngari, founder of African Woman Global Initiative

“African Woman Global Initiative is an organization that promotes justice, empowers women and girls, creates awareness and deters patriarchal based sexism and violence against women and children. Our purpose is primarily to provide legal services and aid those affected by gender-based violence and other issues such as early child marriages. I see an opportunity to learn and meet like-minded people from organizations that I can partner with to achieve my goal and enhance my way of thinking on how to push gender equality.”

The youth are entitled to have a say in decisions that affect them; not just during the election period, but every day in every conversation that pertains to their lives.

They want to be involved in making change, setting up policies and implementing them. When the youth advocate for an issue, they are holding those in charge accountable to ensure that their rights are protected and upheld. They are not asking for favors, and it’s time we start celebrating the youth for embracing advocacy.

Rachel Ombaka is the online sub-editor for Citizen TV- Kenya

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