I attended a session on social exclusion and the internet, this focused on groups that had little or no access to the internet. Primarily the following groups were discussed: older people, persons with disabilities, language/cultural groups…and the youth.
The youth were not discussed by the panellists in terms of their access to the net, the Kenyan MP (didn’t get his name) declared that “the youth were good for nothing”, and that he was trying to engage with them, and that all they want to do is party, drink, have sex…usual youth-hate-speech-misrepresentation-rah-rah.
This particular moment sparked my interest/outrage. He failed to think of youth as possessing agency. I worked with a large African delegation at WYC (World Youth Conference) to put together proposals to government and civil society concerned with access to technology (and other issues, such as gender, sexuality, etc). Youth are strong, important civil society contributors, and often far more engaged with issues, and possess a greater sense of urgency regarding addressing social injustices. In fact, the governments that the proposals were presented to failed to adopt any of these, and outright rejected the document. All 22 pages and 381 proposals.
It is important that we do not perpetuate stereotypes about youth, especially African youth. I don’t think he realized the potential damage he did to people’s perceptions of Africa, and African youth – or the damage he did to his own reputation in that space. I was embarrassed for my continent and the manner in which it had been represented in that space.
I think what tends to happen is that governments don’t truly engage with people, especially young people, and come to spaces such as IGF and make sweeping statements. These statements are out of context, damaging, and the youth had/have not been engaged prior. I think if he went out and truly engaged with his “constituency” as he claimed to do on a regular basis, he would find strong, intelligent, critical-thinking young individuals ready to assist in any way with improving access to the internet, drafting regulatory policies, etc. And if these individuals were engaged, it would only be for the best, and result in strong, cohesive practices, policies, and understandings.
This individual also went on to state later, after a participant raised the issue that we had completely excluded women from the agenda, that “if you feel women are excluded then you need to think of better ways to correct this”. And that he does not “exclude women and youth” – when his presentation indicated that he had in fact excluded women and youth.
I feel that overall there has been a very strange/warped understanding of youth at this IGF. I attended the session yesterday on the internet and youth activism. What happened in that space was that three panelists presented their thoughts on being youth activists, and then the other panelists took on patronizing tones when addressing them, referring to them as “kids”. I think we needed a few minutes dedicated to what we mean by “youth” so as to have avoided that moment, and the subsequent tensions that arose in that space.
And in conclusion, it should be noted that in today’s session there were two young people (14 and 15 years old) who had put together a document regarding young people and internet governance. Tell me now are they “good for nothing”?
You can follow my tweets on sessions here: http://twitter.com/NyxMcLean