Youth Corner
UN Women/Amanda Voisard
Published on August 10, 2020

International Youth Day: Youth in Moments of Social Change


Wednesday, August 12, 2020 is International Youth Day. This year’s International Youth Day has a focus on Youth Engagement for Global Action. Although there is no one definition for youth, for statistical purposes, the UN defines youth as people between the ages of 15 and 24.

In many countries, including the United States, youth are unable to hold national political office, and younger youth do not yet have the right to vote. This doesn’t mean that youth are not engaged in government and action. Instead, because more traditional avenues of action are often not available to youth, they create new, innovative methods of action and involvement.

Photo: UN Women/Amanda Voisard
UN Women/Amanda Voisard

Ahead of International Youth Day in 2012, then Secretary General Ban Ki Moon correctly noted that youth today have “unprecedented potential to advance the well-being of the entire human family.” In the eight years that have passed since that statement, its accuracy has been proved repeatedly.

In October, 2012, only a few months after Ban Ki Moon’s remarks, 15 year old Malala Yousef was shot on her school bus, and began her work advocating for women, girls and education. Youth activists like Greta Thunberg, Isra Hirsi, and Mari Copeny are fighting for climate change awareness and equitable access to water. Despite their limited political power, youth are making a difference in every sector and in every country and region.

Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, the importance of youth is even more clear. As Secretary General Anotonio Gutteres stated in April, in the face of challenges caused by Covid-19, youth are “still finding ways to engage, support each other, and to demand and drive change.”

Youth make up a large percentage of essential workers who are on the front line fighting Covid-19 and providing essential services including food service workers, grocery store cashiers, building cleaners, and many other essential services. Youth are also leading the way in social media activism and raising awareness of Covid-19 related issues. Self-care and community care resources, like this youth created zine, are being designed and shared across social media by youth activists.

As a member of the youth demographic myself, I do not have to look far to find examples of effective and innovative youth action. In the wake of the pandemic, and the ongoing global movement for racial justice, I have seen my peers step up and advocate for change in many ways. My peers have organized a state-wide petition that ultimately led to the repeal of a harmful law, hosted a school-wide event and are creating an action plan to ensure anti-racism in our law school community. Others are volunteering in hospitals and clinics heavily impacted by Covid-19, working over time hours to analyze public health data, volunteering to provide food, water, and personal protective equipment to vulnerable and houseless communities, and organizing fund-raising events for organizations supporting vulnerable communities.

In the midst of a global pandemic and a global movement for racial justice, it is undeniable that youth have unique power and ability to drive change and support the well-being of all people. On every level, international, national, and local, youth are driving change and making the world a more sustainable and inclusive place.