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Lara und Marinel im Hamburger Plan-Büro.
10.02.2020 - von Lara, Plan-Jugendbeirat/Youth Advisory Panel from Germany and Marinel, climate activist from the Philippines

World, are you ready for us? Our experiences as female youth activists

Hey, we are Marinel and Lara, activists from the Philippines and Germany. We met in Hamburg in January to exchange on the experiences we have made in our activism. In this blog post we would like to share our thoughts.

Marinel is a 22 years old climate justice advocate from the Philippines. She has been a youth leader in the Philippines since she was 11 years old and has been involved with the #2065yourfuture campaign for more climate justice of the youth advisory board of Plan International Germany back in 2015. Her community was one of the communities that are part of the covered areas of Plan International. Marinel has survived the strongest typhoon ever recorded in human history, Super Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda). She started her activism through Plan's Climate Change project back in 2012 and up until now she has been advocating in the Philippines and in the global arena. For example, she has been attending the United Nations COPs (Conference of the Parties), an annual meeting of the world leaders to tackle solutions to address the climate crisis. Marinel attended the COP21 in Paris, where the Paris agreement has been developed. And, she has been doing a speaking tour in Europe, Japan and Korea etc., raising awareness about the climate crisis and its consequences. 

is 20 years old and has been active with Plan International since 2013, she is a member of the youth advisory panel since 2017. The youth advisory panel advises Plan International from youth perspective and advocates for child rights and the empowerment of girls. They have been doing several campaigns and actions with Plan International, for example on child labor, climate justice, birth registration and girls rights. In the youth advisory panel Lara focuses on the topics of flight and migration, financing of development cooperation and budget and sustainability. One especially important topic for her is climate change and gender.

How do we make your voices heard?

We organize campaigns in order to inform young people about topics connected to child rights and climate change and give them the opportunity to act on issues they experience. Together we put pressure on our governments. Also we raise awareness through social media on topics like global health, gender and girls rights and climate change.
We lobby to the government and parliaments about the issues that youth face and how to address them: by submitting petitions to the government e. g. to investigate highly-emitting companies in the world, who are fueling climate change, and by speaking to members of the parliament so that they use their influence to direct the government's actions in a more sustainable direction.
Organizing climate strikes and speaking to communities and schools about climate change is another method we use to make our voices heard. We implement projects and campaigns in the grassroots and on national level. In the Philippines, Marinel was involved in the so-called 'Brand Audit': Activists were sorting out brands from coastal and community clean-ups, then after acquiring who among the brands polluted the most, they brought the trash back to the corporations, because we wanted these companies to be responsible with their trashes. Another very powerful method we use for our activism on local and international level is storytelling, where we share our personal experiences and how we have been dealing with the effects of climate change in our everyday lives.

Are we being heard?
Yes, and No. We are being heard by organizations like Plan International and other civil society organizations who help us bring forward our activities and plans.  Also we often experience support from parents, friends, communities and sometimes even local leaders. However, we are not heard by the world leaders and corporations and those who are in great power. We often feel that if we are being invited to big conferences to talk to the leaders, it is mostly because they just want to hear a sad story of someone being victim to climate change, but they are not really ready for us and what we are asking from them.

What do we want to change?
In matters and debates regarding our future, like climate change, the voices of those most affected, namely children and youth, especially girls from the global south, are often not being heard. However we, as global youth, do not only have the right to participate in decision-making concerning our future but we also can make significant change. Tackling the big challenges of our time, of which climate change is the most urgent one, we cannot do business as usual. We need to change our lifestyles and demand system change in our societies. Therefore we need the input and ideas, the activism and commitment of people, especially young people. And if we want to create a better tomorrow it is essential to finally pay attention to those voices that have been ignored. It is not only a matter of fairness but it is them who are bringing in valuable experiences and perspectives essential if we want to make sustainable and effective change. We miss the huge potential and game-changing qualities of millions of young people and girls in particular, especially those from the global south, if their voices continue to be unheard. We need to distribute power equally. But we as young people cannot do it all on our own. We need adults and world leaders to support us and take our demands seriously.

How are we going to reach our goals?
We will continue raising our voices and taking diverse and creative action until our perspective is finally being heard by the people in power, until world leaders see us as assets and as people who have potentials to bring forward positive change. But we need collective actions and therefore we encourage young people to use their full capacity to make a change in their communities and in the world as a whole.

What barriers do we face?
There are plenty of challenges young people face being involved in activism:
Unfortunately we often experience that we are being ignored just because of our gender and because of our age. Adults and men often think that they know better and what’s best for us without even consulting us.
Even if we can speak with someone in power, our voices are often not considered equally. Just because we do not have the same economic power or we cannot vote yet, doesn't mean that our ideas and opinions should matter less, especially when it comes to decisions that affect us.
It is often hard to get access to decision making processes and networks. Especially young people who are just starting to become activists have a hard time knowing where to start and how to get contacts with those relevant actors and opportunities to bring in their perspectives and make a real impact.
Moreover, we lack access to right and reliable information. Factual information about governmental or global actions are sometimes hard to find, or yet, not available for public use, even if they are available, they are not always transparent and understandable for the masses. Often, it is too technical for layman. Education in school is not enough in helping us develop knowledge and skills which we need in order to positively shape the world we are living in. 
We need time and resources and finances to continue our activism. We as young people often have to balance school, university or work and our activism. We often face disapproval and lack of understanding for setting our priorities in activism. If we decide to fully commit ourselves on activism, this also can mean economic insecurity, especially for activists from poor backgrounds. This is an important reason for having a lack of diversity in climate activism and youth movements.
Young people speaking up and especially girls face a lot of harassment and hate speech. This puts the health and security of young activists at risk. It is also very discouraging for youth climate activists and for those who are just starting to hear criticisms especially from people who are not even contributing to the change. This is also the reason why some youths are afraid to be in this fight, because they are afraid that they might encounter physical and psychological abuse, which youth climate activists often experience. We also lack adequate mechanisms to prevent, monitor and persecute this harassment and violence, and there is not enough support for young activists who have been victims of threats and hate speech. 

How do we cope with the barriers we face?
We grow our knowledge and skills and try to learn as much as possible in order to show that we are not „just“  children and girls, but WE ARE EXPERTS of our lives and what is best for us.
By connecting with other activists, we form stronger alliances that cannot easily be destroyed and ignored. A strong network can not only encourage you and help you feel safe but it also helps you to find out more possibilities and get contacts to important actors on the field.
Connecting to a NGO like Plan International can support young activists tremendously. They can provide resources and experiences, which will help young activists bring their message through.
Being creative and inventive with the methods and approaches that we use in our activism, make sure that we can make an impact and we will be able to reach the audience that we want to reach. We try out as much as possible and learn from our experiences. We make dialogues with other activists on how to do our works better.
Existing structures, like legal instruments or laws are very helpful to have as a foundation that we can build our arguments and activities on. We continue to hold the government accountable for their promises and let them know that we are watching them. We believe it is important to continue talking to your local government unit, your member in parliament or whom else you want to address, even if they do not react as desired at first. Youth participation often is a process you need to work on over a long time. Often it is us, taking the initiative again and again before finally our demands are being understood and respected.
We try to create spaces offline and online for young activists to talk about their own ideas and goals to start living them, presenting a good example to other youths and the public and showing new ways to think and live. Social and traditional media can be a tool in sharing ideas and perspectives.

How do we use online tools to reach your goals?
We write blogs, make videos and use other creative tools to raise awareness to people on the issue of climate change. The internet helps us to share initiatives on the ground and see what has been successful and which ideas could be replicated in other areas.  Moreover, sharing information about the reality of this crisis and stories of activists and people affected by climate change humanizes science and this way makes it easier to understand and relate for people who haven't still felt the effect of climate change.
Social media and the internet is a great resource for forming networks globally, learn from other people and other like-minded individuals from all walks of life. Moreover, we use it to address and involve our target audience in the discussions. The internet is an important source to us in gathering information like by conducting surveys or polls and researching on ideas and topics that is essential in our work as activists.

Do we feel free and safe online? 
Sometimes, not. Because there are times that we are being bashed and humiliated online just because we want to make a point and we want to raise our voices. And we are shocked by the cases of other activists being persecuted for making use of their freedom of opinion online. While the internet gives us the platforms and opportunities to spread our advocacy we also feel the toxicity of it. However, this will not stop us.

We are optimistic that together with the amazing young activists around the globe we can make change in this world for the better and we hope for you to be with us in this fight.