September 19, 2017
Guest post by Nada Al-Nashif, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences at UNESCO.
“Supporting youth in the Southern Mediterranean region is vital,” writes Nada Al-Nashif. “Today’s youth are transforming their societies. We must harness their energies, capacities and ideas as partners for a common future built on peace, social justice and human rights.”
What if superheroes also existed outside of comic books? What if some of them lived in the Southern Mediterranean where reality often creates seemingly impossible challenges for its 30 million young inhabitants? Many youth in the region may be discouraged but they are resilient – struggling to shape a brighter future.
On the ground, these youth are working with local leaders to revamp public policies. They are broadcasting shows and leading advocacy campaigns to shape opinion and make their voices heard. They are building solutions through innovation and entrepreneurship. And yes, they are the new “superheroes”, standing up to conflict, unemployment, exclusion and discrimination with support from the European Union and UNESCO.
Three years ago, the European Union offered UNESCO funds to implement the Networks of Mediterranean Youth (NET-MED Youth) project in Algeria, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia. As this project reaches the end of its first phase, it is time to assess its impact.
Building on UNESCO’s values and expertise, the project embodied key strategic EU priorities vis-à-vis its Southern neighbors. The young women and men involved have designed and revised national legislation on youth. They have created national youth coalitions and collaborated with over 100 national and alternative media platforms to amplify their voices. They have reoriented employment strategies, started their own businesses and embarked on new career paths. They have created better opportunities for other youth and for their communities.
The original 150 active members has now been leveraged to a network of over 4,000 young women and men equipped with skills to thrive and raise the bar.
This is the case of Rita, 17, who wondered “Can the community build the life of youth? Or should youth build the community?”
Rita joined 40 other young people from around Lebanon on a 5-month-long training about local governance, participation, municipal law and communication. Rita and her peers took a big step further. They elected committee members to lead the work of their newly-created Youth Council for the Union of Municipalities – a body where youth have a say in local decision-making and can create local projects. A first in Lebanon!
Like Rita, Fatma, 25, with other youth from all over Libya, advocated for the new Libyan constitution to reflect their demands. They had a clear request: policies need to involve youth in the process of peace-building and democratic governance. What seemed to be a hopeless task turned into a successful initiative where parliamentarians and youth engaged in constructive dialogue. The process of drafting a new constitution for Libya was back on the public agenda.
Similarly, Motaz, a 27-year old photographer from Palestine, has seen his whole life change as he acquired new skills in media and information literacy, freedom of expression, media content production and communication campaigns. Motaz learnt about the power of the image, its use and the story it carries. He created his own company, a visual arts studio, where he now receives commissions from different international organizations and institutions.
“I could not have done this before,” says Motaz. “I was an amateur photographer but now I see things differently through my lens. I can better portray reality and immortalize stories so that my visual information is fair, inclusive and free of any prejudice or one-sided view of the world.”
Youth have taken the lead in the project as they campaign, advocate, negotiate, research and act.
They have demonstrated how young people can drive positive change in the region. A change that can only happen when projects such as NET-MED Youth continue to exist, through EU and UNESCO cooperation, to help young people and decision-makers find solutions together and make youth voices heard, loud and clear. For the sustainability of both Southern Mediterranean countries and Europe, this is vital.Guest contributor