Ladies, gentlemen and others,
I am the Swedish Youth Delegate, representing 76 Swedish youth organizations with more than half a million members. We constitute an active part of the Swedish and international community, and with our work, we are changing the world day by day.
Today, I will address issues of discrimination and inequalities in society that affect young people. If decision makers are serious about developing and implementing policies to tackle exclusion, unemployment and health problems, especially among youth, they must dare address important root causes – inequality and discrimination.
Back home in Sweden, I am the President of the National Youth Organization for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Youth; RFSL Ungdom is it’s Swedish name. We organize young people from the entire country, and we work together because we face challenges related to our sexual orientation and gender identity. We work for ourselves as individuals, strengthening each other in our everyday life. But our work is so much broader than that; we work to create spaces for everyone in society to be themselves and to be able to explore their identities and dreams. We want to widen the box.
Norms and stereotypes affect everyone in society. Gender norms tell us which clothes to wear and how to act, and norms about physical ability tell us that we need to be able to walk with our legs. The heterosexual norm tells us that we need to take interest in people of the opposite gender. These norms affect everyone, the ones who break them and those who conform to them.
Any discrimination ground, paired with being young, creates another kind of stigma. Young people are rarely entrusted with their own judgment when it comes to sexuality, gender, or other important parts of life or a young person’s identity. Instead, we are left with ideas and norms from older generations. This stops us from being ourselves, and repeats the mistakes that earlier generations have made.
Before we realize that discrimination and unequal treatment is an issue of power, we will reach nowhere. To do this, we need to move past tolerance into a state where we are all equals, where nobody has to rely on tolerance from someone else, where nobody has to get the permission to exist in the society they are both a part of.
Young people with an LGBTQ identity face challenges related to their physical as well as mental health. They experience bullying in schools, domestic violence and discrimination in the health care system. Some young people are completely excluded from society because of their identity. This can lead to depression, anxiety, homelessness, and suicide attempts.
The work of my organization, and the work of many youth organizations, changes the lives of young people. It is remarkable to see young people, who in many ways are mirrors of myself five or ten years ago, grow many inches during a summer camp when they for the first time ever can be open and honest about their hopes, fears, dreams, and their past.
The possibility to give this to young people changes lives and gives them tools to tackle discrimination in society. Through a young civil society, young people who meet challenges because of their faith, ethnicity, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, gender or gender expression, can turn their challenges into advantages and take part in society fully.
The new technology speeds up interaction between young people on different continents, and even between young people in one country. This means that the information about human rights violations spreads very quickly and the young population of the world has the possibility to take a stand immediately, for their rights and the rights of their peers, no matter where they live.
We need to consider if we can afford continued inequalities. Human rights violations take place on every continent, every day. Many of the violations pass without notice, and without action from society. When people are denied their rights, they are forced into a life of exclusion, poverty and unemployment, and maybe even criminality. The health decreases and life expectancy is shorter. The possibility to get a good education is close to zero. Actions need to be taken.
Governments should acknowledge the Yogyakarta principles, the human rights for everyone no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. A serious issue is hate crimes towards transgender people, sometimes supported by the state. In order to achieve an equal society you need to start to work for the fulfillment of the Yogyakarta principles.
Governments of the world need to make sure to challenge gender and sexuality stereotypes in their policymaking. You also need to guarantee young people the access to comprehensive sexuality education involving both LGBTQ issues and learning about contraceptive methods. Guarantee safe schools, free from discrimination and violence.
There is a strong youth movement for a better world, with regards to questions like climate change, sustainable development and human rights. Young people and youth organizations get together for change.
Governments of the world need to realize that the challenges in the world will not be faced unless young civil society is involved. Any measure you take, where youth is not involved, will risk being irrelevant, inefficient, and illegitimate. Turn this around and give us true influence in all parts of the process. Acknowledge that the work of young civil society is a key for creating inclusion.
Young people are participants, leaders, initiators, and actors for change, today. Young people struggle to be part of the solution but are left being a part of the problem. We need you to keep your promises and make them true. And we need you to do this now.
Thank you very much.