I attended the Commonwealth Youth Forum 2018 and this is what I learnt

As part of my work for Haiyya and the Health Over Stigma Campaign I was one of the 20 leaders nominated for the the Commonwealth Youth Awards for ‘Excellence in Development Work’. In April 2018 I travelled to London for the Commonwealth Youth Forum that leads into the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). These are my top learnings and insights.

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The Finalists for the Commonwealth Youth Awards 2018

Investing in youth: The forum itself focused on young people and we heard over and over from different speakers (including Prince William, Kofi Annan, Teresa May and Bill Gates) that the commonwealth’s population is a young one. By focusing on building youth leadership we cut across different issues areas and ensure that new ideas, innovation and energy are brought into the limelight.

Raising diverse voices: The Commonwealth is an identity that many are happy to be a part of but we cannot separate it’s racist and exploitative dark past with idealistic values of ‘equality’ and fairness’ With this in mind it was refreshing to see multiple platforms and leadership positions that were held by diverse voices to shift the traditional narrative. Ensuring that we are able to bring in real inclusivity and intersectionality. However I do have to note that one of the main issues facing the commonwealth namely South Asia are the well-being of the Rohingya refugees who have fled the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. No young leader from the community was represented at the Forum, which was a missed opportunity.

The gap between policy and reality: The Youth Forum was filled with ambitious young leaders (many of whom were officially representing their countries’ youth networks). In our smaller interactive group sessions there was acknowledgement about the gap that exists between creating policy recommendations and the the situation on-ground. I firmly believe that the only way to bridge this is by intiating a dialogue that includes grassroots campaigners/activists and young community leaders who work in informal groups and collectives.

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The luxury of dissent: On the last day of the Forum I walked out of the exhibition doors and right into a bustling crowd of Indians who were excited to greet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, across the road there was a larger demonstration of protestors who were against his visit to the UK. What struck me was that people with strong political opinions were ‘allowed’ to demonstrate this close to an extremely high security area. It reminded me of the how important freedom of speech is and as citizens in a democracy we cannot lose spaces to dissent publicly. 

By Mrinalini Dayal

Mrinalini Dayal is the Senior Strategy at Haiyya and she started the Health Over Stigma Campaign in 2017, that fights stigma unmarried women face while accessing Sexual Health Services in India. As a Community Organizer she uses her campaigning knowledge to build strategy and support movements that elevate Youth Leadership.

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