Plan International Canada's Youth Advisory Council in the summer of 2015. Shrida Sahadevan pictured fourth from right (Photo: Plan International Canada).
Tomorrow's leaders - but also today's
Many people acknowledge youth to be the leaders of tomorrow and understand that we are the voices of the future; however, this International Youth Day (August 12), the world must recognize that youth leadership is also key to tackling the biggest issues facing the world today. Youth leaders are gradually being incorporated into various decision-making bodies.
Incorporating the voices of youth leaders will help to ensure that we are planning an inclusive, sustainable future for our country.
Just a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the creation of the Prime Minister's Youth Council, which will be comprised of 30 youth who will "provide non-partisan advice to the prime minister on national issues such as employment, access to education, building stronger communities as well as climate change and clean growth."
This is a stark contrast to many other places in the world, where youth are denied even the most basic necessities, let alone a say in the leadership of their community or nation. The formation of this council demonstrates the shift in thinking towards incorporating youth leadership, and the understanding that youth are uniquely situated to provide valuable insights on issues that Canada faces at a national level.
As a young leader with experience on a youth council, I can appreciate the unique opportunity this will provide, not just for the youth participating, but also the beneficiaries of their perspectives and leadership -- namely, Canadian citizens. Incorporating the voices of youth leaders will help to ensure that we are planning an inclusive, sustainable future for our country.
Unique perspectives for the problems we face
Through my experiences as a member of the Plan International Canada's Youth Advisory Council, I have encountered and worked with many types of youth leaders. We all have different reasons and drives for why we do what we do, but we are united by our passion for changing the world for the better.
In my time on the Youth Advisory Council, I have learned that youth are uniquely positioned to address the big issues that dominate our world. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a plan for tackling these big issues, providing a list of 17 international development goals for the next 15 years.
Goal #5 is of particular interest to me, and speaks to the global need to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls. Making this goal a reality will require the eventual participation of everyone, regardless of age or gender. However, the impact of not achieving this goal will disproportionately affect young people because girls are the ones subjected to some of the worst inequalities (including lack of access to sanitation, education and health resources).
Simply put, my generation will bear witness to the long term effects of inaction on the global development priorities outlined by the SDGs -- so we should have a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions that will affect our futures.
Members of Plan International Peru's first National Meeting of Child and Youth Advisory Councils (Photo: Plan International/ Adrian Benites).
Becoming a youth leader
Being on Plan International Canada's Youth Advisory Council has allowed me to express my opinions, and bring my ideas to fruition. I have been able to advocate for gender equality, and to inspire new conversations among youth on international development issues that impact young lives worldwide. I first became interested in international development when I began to understand the differences in rights and living conditions between Canada and my parents' home country.
I believe a vital key to successfully becoming a youth leader is not to let fear -- of rejection, judgment, or ridicule -- drive our actions.
As a second-generation Canadian, I have close relatives who have been subjected to inequality in their access to education, health and rights as a result of their gender. This revelation motivated me to truly understand the reality of gender inequality both internationally and domestically, and subsequently to educate others on this topic.
To raise awareness of these issues, I have participated in several advocacy initiatives, including assisting with the development of Plan International Canada's youth advocacy resources, which support youth who aspire to create their own advocacy movements. I have also given a seminar at my university, raising awareness of the negative impact of gender inequality not only on girls and women, but also on boys and men.
Advice for Canada's new Youth Council
I believe a vital key to successfully becoming a youth leader is not to let fear -- of rejection, judgment, or ridicule -- drive our actions. We must not let our voices be silenced for fear of how our opinions might be received by adults who are more experienced and more confident in their opinions. For youth who are just starting to become confident in their ideas, the fear of not being accepted can shape our actions and motivations. In my experience, once I gained confidence in the possibility of my ideas being a vehicle for addressing important issues, I was able to fully embrace my position as a leader and an advocate for change.
I believe that youth are uniquely able to address the issues that face our world and future. International Youth Day celebrates the accomplishments of current youth leaders, but should also encourage future youth leaders to raise their voices to support and inspire others, and encourage positive change.
Shrida Sahadevan (BSc (Hon) '15) is a recent MSc in Rehabilitation Science graduate and holds a BSc Honors in Neuroscience degree from the University of Alberta, Canada. Shrida has been involved with Plan International Canada since 2013, as a member of the Girls Speaker's Bureau, Youth Journalist Program and as a member on the Youth Advisory Council. An avid volunteer since the age of thirteen, she has immense passion for issues concerning health, education and gender inequality, at both domestic and international levels. In her spare time, she loves exploring her creative side through writing, dancing, reading and appreciating the arts.
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