3 October 2006
Item 60: Social Development, including questions relating to the world social situation and to youth, ageing, disabled persons and the family
Statement by Elise Klein
of Australia to the United Nations
(Check against delivery)
As Australia’s Youth Representative, I am honoured to address you today on behalf of young people in Australia.
The Youth Representative position was created in 1999 in response to United Nations resolutions calling for the inclusion of youth in high-level policy making. As a member of the Australian delegation, I wish to highlight some concerns of Australian young people and to focus on the importance of inspiring the individual. There are around 2.6 million people aged 15-24 years in Australia, that is 14% of the population.
In the last year, I have consulted with young people from the breadth of Australia; from the outback of Northern Queensland to cities of Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, to isolated communities in the Kimberly, Western Australia. I met thousands of young people from all walks of life and listened to their thoughts on key issues of importance to them.
I am humbled to say that we are lucky in Australia; most young people lead healthy and happy lives. They can work and study to reach their goals and enjoy their friends and families. Many are also doing some powerful and inspiring stuff in their communities.
However, for some young people in Australia, their journey is more challenging. Based on my consultations, these young people are faced with issues such as family breakdown; isolation in rural towns; drugs use; anxiety and depression; and sexual abuse.
From what I have seen however, when young people have the support and self belief gained through access to education it seems that they can overcome these challenges in life. This is why education is a key Millennium Development Goal and universal priority so education is accessible to all.
Education and empowerment are key in mobilizing and inspiring young people to take charge of their lives and reach their full potential. In fact, the meaning of education has changed. Education is now beyond grammar, mathematics and other conventional classroom studies. Education must also incorporate support where the individual is empowered to take charge of their lives, to be motivated, innovative and have the confidence to take up the challenges with which they are faced. This ‘broader’ type of education not only makes a substantial difference to how people are able to live their lives, it also means that they are empowered to achieve their dreams.
This kind of education has the power to shape one’s identity and future. I want to share with you a story where community support gained through education has been used to empower young but disadvantaged indigenous women in an isolated rural community. This was a rural community where some indigenous women were frequently abused and discriminated against which resulted in feelings of helplessness and apathy towards their own lives. It was essentially a combination of education, peer support and activities aimed at raising self esteem that have now empowered young indigenous women to go after their dreams of finding a job, finishing school and going to university. This was a massive thing considering the oppressed future the girls were facing.
The importance of education to inspire the individual is not just an Australian but a universal lesson. Through fund raising in Australia I have been involved in the development of a school for over 130 underprivileged young people in Bamako, Mali. The students at this school are as equally driven to take charge of their lives and want to break the poverty cycle. They now see it possible to become doctors, teachers and leaders of their country. They realise that their education and support received through the school are the way to do this.
Through my travels I am proud to say that there are many young people who, although faced with adversity, are fighting to achieve goals. I met with a group of young men in prison in Australia who have had difficulties with drugs and crime. However, I was so inspired to find out that they have worked very hard to create their very own T-shirt label to raise money for charities in the community. These young people talked about how the education process had raised their faith in community, improved their self worth and esteem.
Let us think about if we can afford not to have our young people inspired and not living the lives they want. That is having a world where millions of people are disengaged, disconnected and uneducated. Where my generation will not be able to deal with ordinary life challenges let alone taking on a world of challenges such as climate change, poverty eradication, global equality and good global governance. We are the next generation that will nurture this world and see it through the sets of challenges with which you leave us. We need to be bought up and educated so that we can do this.
Inspiring the individual through education often doesn’t happen without the support of others. If you look back on your younger days there were probably one or more important individuals who mentored and supported you. It was probably through their guidance and inspiration that you got involved in this field of work and work so hard for the causes you do. But don’t forget how hard it seems to take the first step to take on the world, and that support is so important in this.
It seems that the most important thing for young people over all is that all people are treated with respect and that all people are equal. This is a particularly interesting common thread given the current global difficulties of war, extreme poverty, famine and environmental degradation. It’s a nice thought that the essence of our idealistic view that all people should be treated equally isn’t lost in your work and through education we will achieve this. As a result the challenges faced by young people all over the world will be lessened.
We should never forget that young people are powerful, intelligent, wise, and a creative resource that needs to be used at this critical time in world history. No longer is it ok to disregard young people because of their perceived naivety or lack of experience because sometimes that can create the drive and enthusiasm that are exactly what is needed to create change.
If I was to leave you with anything today it would be to remain committed to your good work. But also be aware that there is a whole generation of young people in Australia and beyond that given a chance will work hard to make this world better. I urge you to keep bringing young people along on the decision-making process, to educate us and allow us to grow so we can make a difference too.
If we can do this and do it well, know that the world will be safe in our hands.
Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.