Presented during our last annual conference, the report Pathways to rights: empowering young Europeans, has been an opportunity for us to showcase some of the amazing work of our members.
It invites readers to think about the current state of youth rights in Europe and how this can be improved with the help of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). It also explores the challenges faced by European societies to achieving social rights.
The report, written by me and our fabulous intern Louise King, starts by presenting the human rights frameworks, offering then the current situation of youth rights in Europe; and then highlighting the work of nine CSOs: Mondo (Estonia); Roma Education Fund (Romania); Emfasis Foundation (Greece); Yeesi (Finland); Volunteering Matters (United Kingdom); PRCBC (United Kingdom); Partnerë për Fëmijët (Albania); LGL (Lithuania) and CATAPA (Belgium). All these civil society organisations support young people with opportunities to contribute to their community, helping others or being empowered to access a specific right.
Are human rights fully accessed in Europe?
Human rights are the inalienable rights that outline how human beings should be treated. The human rights framework which covers both economic and social rights guarantees that we can live a fulfilling and dignified life and facilitates social inclusion. With its own human rights legislation and institutions, the EU is generally seen as a leader in terms of human rights. Yet, in reality, the rights of young people are being eroded. European welfare systems are still not providing young people with the safety nets required to facilitate independent living, poverty is rising and multiple discrimination is an everyday reality.
Europe is doing comparatively well in terms of the fulfilment of rights, ranking highly in terms of wellbeing, human development and quality of life. Yet difficulties still remain, and the levels of these vary significantly between member states. An ageing population, the financial crises, as well as the rise of right wing populism are all factors which are making it more difficult for young people to live a fulfilling life.
What is the state of youth rights?
Taking the current political, economic and social climate into consideration it is important to zoom in on several key rights of young people, to assess their current state. Different rights reveal different pictures. With regards to education, while enrolment rates in primary and secondary school are consistently high, enrolment rates decrease as people get older, with many dropping out before finishing high school or progressing to higher education. This varies significantly between countries in Europe. Employment is somewhat more concerning, with young people facing significant difficulties entering the job market. In terms of access to housing, the rising cost of rents is forcing young people into poverty or preventing them from living independently as they are financially obliged to live at home longer. Data on access to healthcare in Europe reveal positive trends for the majority of young people, yet vulnerable groups such as migrants and trans people still face significant barriers. In terms of mental health, young people are particularly vulnerable to depression, intentional self-harm and suicide. Young people face multiple barriers in accessing sexual health education and medical care due to the multiple dimensions involved, including religious and cultural factors.
Young people continue to face discrimination on the grounds of nationality and ethnicity. Furthermore, many young people residing in Europe are denied nationality, rendering them stateless, due to gaps in national legislation. With respect to gender-based violence against women and girls, the EU has a series of conventions, resolutions, conclusions and strategies to combat it. Despite this, the issue continues to present a barrier to the right to bodily integrity of young people in Europe. The right to gender identity and sexual orientation has seen vast gains in terms of legislation throughout the last decade; however in 2013 17% of Europeans reported experiencing this type of discrimination, indicating that much still has to be done.
Finally while the EU has some of the world’s most stringent environmental protection laws, it faces several environmental challenges many of which are related to climate change, and will have a particularly harmful impact on children and young people as the effects of climate change produce increasingly extreme weather events.
What is the role of Civil Society?
Civil society actors seek to engage young people through active citizenship and volunteering to help them access their rights despite these difficult circumstances. However, the work that they do and their very existence have come under threat from conservative political leaders. The barriers preventing young people from fully accessing these rights mean that the role of civil society organisations working with young people is more important than ever. Through providing access to services, and engaging young people in activism and volunteer work they empower them to develop skills and competencies for personal, social and civic development. European leaders in all member states must follow the example set by civil society and act urgently to ensure that progress can be made swiftly to ensure that all young people can access their fundamental rights, and become active and engaged citizens.
The report included policy recommendations that Volonteurope believes will support the achievement of an inclusive and social Europe.
- increase the resources and funds made available to CSOs, to youth organisations and grassroots organisation to realise social rights and organise social action;
- specifically target vulnerable groups and vulnerable regions for the purpose of improving access to social rights;
- advocate for rights-based approaches in youth policy;
- modify and improve the procedures and management of services and benefits which are intended to give effect to social rights;
- involve youth organisations, volunteer involving organisations and grass roots organisations in the co-design and joint monitoring of policy and initiatives to ensure the inclusivity and accessibility of placements for all young people;
- create a youth-led advisory body on policy making, and youth consultation on policy making;
- create more and better quality volunteering opportunities, with a specific focus on people with fewer opportunities;
- promote the exchange of practices and experiences among partners and stakeholders at both national and European levels;
- develop and disseminate educational tools and awareness of social rights
- promote partnership with social enterprises;
- make citizenship education compulsory in schools to create more awareness, critical thinking and solidarity.
We hope you enjoy reading the report, let us know if you have any comments or if you want to share other examples of good practice with us!
Click here to read the full report
Laura de Bonfils, European Policy and Advocacy Manager