Through Commonwealth structures, including the newly formed Commonwealth Youth Council, I will have opportunities to advocate and campaign on these issues with young people from around the world. Although this will be a great opportunity, I know that there will also be challenges.
At the recent training residential, where I met my colleagues and made some wonderful new friends, we started digesting all of the information about the Commonwealth, including the Commonwealth Charter, which was recently signed by all Commonwealth states, and the Queen as the head of the Commonwealth. The Charter, declares that, “We are committed to equality and respect…” and commits to democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, etc.
Well, I was flabbergasted! In my view, this simply isn’t true. Every country, of course, is at different stages of development, has different resources, histories, cultures, etc, but, for example, in 42 of the 53 Commonwealth countries, it is illegal to be gay.
Women can face extreme discrimination, and even in ‘progressive’ nations (like our own) women are discriminated against in the media, over pay, access to careers and other things. Disability rights are often weak and there are systematic inequalities for young people and other groups in society.
It has been great to hear from my colleague Lola, who attended the Commonwealth Youth Forum last year, about the incredible work that young people, youth councils and organisations around the Commonwealth are engaged in working towards greater justice and equality, and I can’t wait to meet and join them. However, I also heard how she sometimes felt marginalised from conversations that were dominated by young men. I believe we must live our principles and model the society we want to live in, and so I hope I can be part of challenging inequality within youth networks as well as in our countries.
Another potential challenge is being British and the history of the Commonwealth. We need to understand the context of our work in the Commonwealth, and strike a balance between amplifying the voices of those most affected by issues of conflict, poverty, inequality, etc, and standing up for what we believe in – which is our duty and mandate having been elected as representatives by young people in the UK.
As one of the UK Young Ambassadors to the Commonwealth you can expect me to:
- Work respectfully and positively with all of my Commonwealth colleagues to represent young people to our Heads of State and Ministers and take action to bring about change
- Channel my excitement and passion to ensure we have fruitful discussions and collaborations
- Have an open mind and engage enthusiastically in cross cultural dialogue, to learn and share as much as possible
- Work with Commonwealth young people to develop more inclusive youth platforms and challenge discrimination within our networks
- Stand up for my principles, and be vocal when necessary
Oh … and do expect that I will be fun to get to know and work with!