“Youth participation makes him happy.” That is what Tom Clarke says in his Twitter bio. As the digital campaigns officer at Youth For Change (YFC) — a global network of youth activists working in partnership with organizations and governments to tackle gender-based violence — Clarke oversees youth-focused initiatives and efforts addressing issues which affect some of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations: women and girls.
According to UN Women, at least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) in 30 countries. In most of the countries where FGM/C is practiced, the majority of girls were cut before the age of 5. Each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18, as reported by Girls Not Brides. That is 28 girls every minute; one every two seconds. According to data from the Together for Girls-supported Violence Against Children Survey (VACS), one in four girls experience sexual violence before age 18 and about one in four girls’ first sex was forced. Despite the pervasiveness of these human and health rights violations, FGM/C, child marriage, and violence against women and girls are the very issues Clarke and Youth For Change are fighting to end. By creating positive and safe spaces for girls, boys, young women and young men, Clarke mobilizes youth who are implementing solutions to address violence against women; all while rallying for girls’ and women’s rights and empowerment in the process.
With youth activism teams in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, and Tanzania, Clarke recognizes young people and their power as social change agents who are catalyzing movements for gender equity and inclusion in their respective communities, and ultimately, the world.
Together for Girls chatted with Clarke about how he got involved with Youth for Change; why youth voices are integral to the global conversation; and how young people can get involved in making a difference in their communities.
Photo Courtesy of Tom Clarke
Together for Girls: So Tom, why does youth participation make you happy?
TOM CLARKE: Youth participation makes me happy because when young people are able to unlock their potential, the whole world benefits. Young people hold the key to a better future – when you empower and bring them together, you’re helping create a new generation willing and able to take the lead in tackling the most important global issues.
It still amazes me when people are surprised to see an inspirational young person take the stage and share their achievements. I want us to get to a place where this is the norm, and not something special.
Photo: Clarke leading workshop with Youth For Change activists in Zambia
TfG: Tell us about yourself and your involvement with Youth For Change.
TC: My first experience working with young people was with a youth homelessness charity in the UK. We worked to build the skills of young people who had faced severe challenges, and help them transition to an independent adulthood.
I realized all young people — regardless of their perceived ‘limitations’ really do want to do something with their lives, and what’s more, have the drive to have a positive impact on the world around them.
I started working at Youth For Change in June of last year. Since then, I’ve seen us grow from having one team based in the UK, to establishing three more in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Bangladesh. I support the four teams to carry out their campaigns, and we work together to design and implement campaign actions, raise awareness on gender-based violence, and promote our own work and the work of other young people and youth organizations.
Photo Credit: Youth For Change Twitter
TfG: Youth For Change is led by youth activists that campaign against issues such as FGM and child marriage. Why it is imperative that youth are included in the global conversation?
TC: More than half of the global population is under 25 – in the developing world this can be as high as 87 percent. But in spite of this, youth are excluded from global conversations, whether it’s about education, climate change, poverty or gender equality.
The views and priorities of a massive portion of society are being marginalized and ignored. The decision made by those who do hold power will disproportionately affect young people, but they’re not able to influence them, which is fundamentally unjust. Global decisions, like the Sustainable Development Goals, will affect young people the most, and it is the youth that will inherit the responsibility to see them through. Their voices have to be heard.
It’s important to give young people the space to lead change themselves, as well as just contribute. Young people bring unique perspectives and innovative approaches, and they usually organize in ways that are more participatory and representative. They’re not afraid to disrupt the traditional ways of doing things in order to create real change.
It’s no surprise that so many successful social movements in the past century have often had youth at the front and center. Youth are an invaluable global resource, and youth power should be harnessed, not wasted.
Photo: “I have a right to decide.” – Upendo, a Youth For Change activist from Tanzania for Together for Girls’ and Youth For Change’s #WhyZeroFGM campaign
TfG: What are some interventions that Youth For Change activists are working on in their respective countries to end violence against women and girls?
TC: Our Youth For Change teams are currently doing different activities to help tackle violence against women and girls. The UK team is carrying out their #TrainToProtect campaign, which seeks to improve training for UK school staff to recognize young people at risk of FGM/C and child marriage. The Tanzania team is campaigning to raise the age of marriage to 18, as well as carrying out awareness raising in the country’s rural regions.
In Bangladesh, our team is working with a coalition of other youth organizations to lobby their government to fully implement the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014; while in Ethiopia we’re working with the government to build relationships with government officials to make sure young people can work with them directly to tackle FGM/C & child marriage.
TfG: What has been your most rewarding experiencing working at YFC?
TC: My most rewarding experience with Youth For Change was our Global Meeting in Lusaka, Zambia this past April, when all four youth teams came together to share the learning from a year of campaigning and advocacy.
It really blew my mind to see so many amazing young people, from vastly different backgrounds, communicating and collaborating to make some really tough decisions. They worked for almost a solid week to refine our strategy for the future, and took ownership of their global mission and vision. It really was youth leadership at its best!
TfG: How can youth get involved in Youth For Change?
TC: There are several ways you can get involved with Youth For Change. First of all, you can connect with us on Twitter at @YouthForChange for the latest news on what we’re up to. Secondly, if you’re based in one of our four countries you can contact your Youth Team for info on events and opportunities to collaborate.
You can also get involved with Youth For Change by writing for our website, Hub For Change. It’s a platform for young people globally to share their views, passion and experience. We bring together young people from around the world to support each other in the fight against gender-based violence. Check it out at http://www.youthforchange.org, and apply to become a contributor here.
Photo Credit Banner Photo: ©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Giacomo Pirozzi