Youth: Open Space #17 : The Trails of Youth Activism

Published by AYF Secretariat on

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In this Open Space, AYF is providing a platform for youth record youth’s experience in doing activism and advocating their concerned issues. During the pandemic, youth initiatives do not stop. More strategies and activism arise as we go during the pandemic. Some people start by attending webinars. Some conduct safe discussion spaces. Some go directly to the streets. Some do lobbying. Some organize range of events.

On the 12th of December (Sunday), around 50 youth in Southeast Asia attended the session. The participating youth are coming from 8 countries, which are Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. It was an entirely youth-led discussion, co-hosted by Hajar (Indonesia) and Ricardo (Timor-Leste)

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Here are some highlights from the session

I am a youth activist from Thailand. The main issues I am advocating for are environmental rights, specifically environmental education, in terms of young people. So they are able to learn about the environment and are able to become future change makers that are able to almost change the laws that are in place that are currently harming our environment. So I found the most effective way is to go to the change-maker itself. Because I do environmental activism. So going to large retailers who actively give out things like single use plastics, or even to the government themselves, like the Ministry of Energy, or Ministry of Natural resources, specifically in Thailand to implement different laws and almost structures to really make change on the root cause.

Lilly, Thailand

I focused on education, so during this pandemic we realized that the amount of school drop-out is very alarming. Even in Malaysia there are thousands of drop-out school. One thing that I do for activism is I start a social media account and I voice out in social media, and anything that has been voiced out in social media is likely to be recognized by the authorities. For me it’s easier because in this pandemic, protesting in the street is un-suitable, and voicing out through the social account helped a little bit.

Anis, Malaysia

I completely agree with you that starting conversation is a great move that we can do. I think doing advocacy is also about starting the conversation with our friends, family, and everyone that surrounds us, and by you doing that is very amazing. Keep doing what you do and initiating conversation that everyone don’t want to talk about, and we’re here to support you. 

Ricardo, Timor-Leste

This gender equality mostly affects to the youth terribly. Society didn’t want to give a place if you are LGBT, but if you are a man, it’s okay that you make mistake and society forgive you and didn’t take so much interest on you. If you are a young girl or a women and you make mistake they will tell you ‘oh what a shame, you shouldn’t do this as a girl’. If a man goes to a night club, it’s okay. But if women go to a night club as a sex worker, society will look down on them. That’s why we need more advocacy about the young women and girl in protecting our rights, and make a safe space for her.

Alison, Myanmar

I am working on climate action. I am part of ASEAN Brunei Youth Council. We are working to create a green environment. We are having green youth and awareness campaigns, or anything related to a green environment. Sometimes we have an activity where we would swap recyclable items for 1 kg rice from poor people because we think it will help them. We also do social media account which is a green exchange. Green exchange is where we usually work to promote green environment and save the planet. For example, we refrain others from using plastic too much, like prepare your bag for shopping. 

Jerick, Brunei Darussalam

As a normal youth, all I can do is participate in social media campaigns like tweeting on twitter and posting on Instagram

Tal, Myanmar

We are creating an organization that provides human rights education for the young people in our country, especially in the rural areas. In rural areas, youth are not receiving education on human rights. That is why we have just started an organization to provide education on human rights and other social issues in our country. 

Nang, Myanmar

What I did usually involve with education, such as creating academic products on democratization. I also held public discussions and classes on political education for youth and student movement. Other than the specific discussion on democratization issue, I would like to focus on the civil society movement, especially concerning the strength and the weakness of the civil society movement in Indonesia and South East Asia. Another thing that I plan to do, especially now that I am in Bangkok, is to create a sort of transnational student activism. In this case, I have connected with my friends from Myanmar, Kashmir, Cambodia, and other places as well. We tried to create a campaign and raise awareness to address democratic issues in our country and, hopefully, we can engage with other activists as well. The most difficult thing about being an activist, especially in Indonesia, is that we are not familiar with political matters and human rights issues.  It is like we only think that human rights and democracy are only about the need rather than something that we really need to fight for. In practical, which is very problematic, too, for example, when we go on the street or to webinars, some people think that politics is tough. Usually, we tend to not touch the root culture; we only focused on the technicality and focused on making one or two people better. We have to focus on the root culture which is the power imbalance between the government and the civil society. Most of us forget about that issue. The second thing is the repression from the government. Currently, I mean in Indonesia, they will not kill or kidnap us, and else. What the government did was digital attack and intimidation. That is what usually happened. Those are the challenges based on my experience.

Miftachul, Indonesia

I am a youth activist in the Philippines. Philippines, as we know, is under Duterte regime. In the Duterte regime, activist, environmentalist, and human right defenders are experiencing different attacks, hatred, and intimidation. So, in the organization, we focused on the human rights violations by the government, such as the attacks and even killing. As we know, the Philippine has numerous environmentalists. The journalists and even Maria Ressa, the Nobel Prize winner, experienced the attack. Many human rights violations happen, such as killing, extrajudicial killing, intimidation, and more. In other word, as a youth, we need to encourage others that we should stand up for our rights, because protesting in the street is not enough. Social media is more accessible but the facts are not inside but lies further inside. So, it is also important to share information on social media where we can encourage others, not to antagonize them but instead we educate on what is really happening in our country. We can see that even youth can do such action in lobbying different issues, creating positive changes, and even winning something. It is more on the collective action of us as a youth or citizen of our country. The challenge we face in the Philippines is the attack of the government. The activists have experienced red-tagging and beating. Some activists have also been killed. It is a challenge for us on how we can move forward. We have our comrades or we call them Kasama in Philippine word. So, we went on a journey by going to communities with them. After months, they have been killed by authorities. It is hard for us because they are killed when we do our activism. This is not only for us but for the importance of many people.  We want to create a better community that can be accessible to all. Aside from that, we do not know what is the root or real cause of the issues when we go to the community. So, we have to address those issues while also bringing relief to others.

Rov,The Philippines

I would like to focus on the marginalized communities who are disproportionately affected in environmental issues. In Indonesia, there are a lot of indigenous people who, due to the expansion of the palm oil and so on, are losing access to their livelihood. Personally, I educate myself by attending webinars and training from NGOs. I contribute to the issue by attending policy making events, for example, recently, I make policy recommendations along with other youth in ASEAN. The policy recommendation is already sent to the ASEAN secretariat, I guess. I also write about the issue in my campus media. Aside from that, I also conducted public discussions on environmental issues. Currently, I am also a youth activist and run a student organization called Pusik Parahyangan. It focuses on research and building a conscious civil society in Indonesia by covering education on several issues, such as human rights, democracy, and other social political issues.

The first challenge that I face in the activism is the discussion on various issues rarely targeting the root problems or structural aspect of the issue. Oftentimes, the perspective being proposed in the discussion is political, which is the common thing among the public when very much of the issues are political, whether we like it or not. Another point, recently in Indonesia, the space to voice criticism has become narrower, which I think happened because of the repression from the state authorities or else. Third, sustaining and strengthening the movement is difficult. It is not just because of the pandemic but because there are so many issues happening and, oftentimes, overlapping. When there is actually a connection between these issues, people still see them as separate issues. We also have different interests among youth and other members of civil society, so it has been pretty tough in terms of combining and collecting a united voice. 

Vicentia, Indonesia

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