Involving College Students in Human Rights Promotion
By Daniella McVicker: “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” This is a famous quote that Malala Yousafzai, a well-known human rights activist, said in her message to the UN back in 2013.
Indeed, this is a powerful quote that reminds us that those who have the right to education should protect it because it can be a great tool against injustice in our society. Not only is education essential to protecting one’s rights, but also to secure the best possible future.
Perhaps the most prominent example is the correlation between a lack of education and unwanted outcomes such as numerous health problems, early childbirth, and even deaths of young women in Africa. In countries like Kenya and Nigeria, fertility rates – as well as death rates and prevalence of related health issues – are higher for women with no education compared to those who had finished at least primary school.
In countries like the UK, however, some examples include protecting civil liberties and the right to democracy, which has become the real need to support a free society and strengthen democracy.
Since students are directly involved in education and can help with spreading the awareness of human rights as well as protecting them, a question emerges if student activism is a legitimate strategy for achieving these goals. The answer is really quite simple.
What Being a Human Rights Activist Really Means?
If I become a human rights activist, what would my typical day look like? What does that even mean?
For many people, including students looking to become a part of human rights groups and organizations, answering these questions is essential to understanding how they can contribute while continuing to pursue other important goals.
Human rights activism is something that requires different levels of commitment, so you don’t have to be involved full-time if you can’t. Unfortunately, for many people, a lack of understanding of how activists work prevents them from joining the global effort to protect human rights. For example, many think that being an activist will take a lot of their time, which they simply can’t afford.
However, this is far from being true. Involving yourself in human rights activism for several hours per week could be enough if that’s all the time you can spend on doing that. Besides, you don’t have to travel to distant corners of the world to participate in the movement; for example, you can help to protect the society’s right to a real democracy where you live, and do many other things.
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Does that mean that students are well-positioned to become human rights activists?
Students as Human Rights Activists
Answering the question above: yes, it does. Not only that, but studying human rights protection gives them the advantage to be even more effective and skilled at this. Getting them interested in the subject might be a challenge, but as many case studies show, this is more than doable.
The U.S.-based non-profit NYSUT, for example, is doing a great job educating high school students about women’s rights, LGBTQ concerns, human rights in Africa, and the impact of global climate change. While educating the attendees about these pressing concerns, they also capitalize on the opportunity to teach them the skills of building and managing a social justice movement.
The feedback from the students, like this tweet from one of the attendees, has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging.
The UK has many success stories as well. Not only are local students involved in spreading the awareness of human rights, but they also attend parliamentary events to voice their concerns to the government.
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, says:
“That’s why it’s so fantastic to see youth activists from across the UK showing leadership and standing in solidarity with Human Rights Defenders around the world.”
Projects like these remind us once again that each person is powerful and can make a difference for others. Amnesty UK provides those who are inspired by sharing helpful tips and materials at the Student Activist toolkit page as well as providing links to local groups from all over the country.
With student activism on the rise, educating young individuals to join becomes an important goal to continue increasing human rights activity.
How to Involve Students in Human Rights Projects?
If you’re a professor or an educator currently working in an educational institution, there are multiple ways in which you can help young people to become a part of the change. For instance, there’s a chance that it has a human rights centre or department whose purpose is to educate students in that subject.
Becoming a part of their movement could be a great first step to helping them to equip more young people with proper skills and knowledge. For example, you can give them the roadmap for making a difference where needed, and improve their college academic writing skills to educate others in writing.
To be able to spread the knowledge, you might need some help with getting information. There are many online resources you can use to get it.
For example, Democratic Education UK is an excellent resource whose purpose is to map individuals, schools, and organizations supporting democratic education in the country. They have materials and can provide consultations for any kind of organization that supports human rights education, from democratic schools to weekly school meetings.
Open Democracy is another helpful resource that you should check out, with numerous materials and blogs about democratic education, human rights activism, and other projects from all around the world. If you’re looking for information about corporate abuse, press freedom, worker’s rights, women’s rights, racism, economics (it’s a known fact that economic depression is a major cause for revolutions and unrest), and climate change, they have materials about that as well.
Infed is one more UK-based resource providing a space for people to explore learning and education about social pedagogy, community learning and development, and social action.
Keep in mind that being involved with other like-minded individuals and getting support and advice is important to achieve the best outcomes. That’s why staying connected with activist groups is important to be able to provide students with the most useful and relevant information.
College students are well-positioned to become human rights activists, so involving them in the movement is one of the best things that we can do. Young people are certainly key to making our world a better place and supporting human rights in every corner of the world, so help them contribute to this goal.
Daniela McVicker is a freelance writer, blogger, and contributor to RatedbyStudents. She graduated from Durham University and has an MA in psychological science. Her passion is traveling and finding ways to enrich students’ learning experience.