Intergenerational Solidarity Is No Longer Optional—’Adults Need to Involve Us Now,’ Say Teens

Sabita (left), 20, with her mother Chandrika, 45, on Nov. 28, 2019 in Keonjhar District, India. Sabita has been sponsored for the last 12 years, since she was in second grade. As a newly sponsored child she received the gift of one cow and two goats. “I’ve never seen her in person, but I know she is a great person because she’s the only reason I’ve made it this far,” Sabita said of her sponsor. “I wish she could come visit me. The first thing I’d do is give her a hug.”.. (Jake Lyell)

Today’s youth generation is the largest in human history. Not only are there more young people today than at any other point in time—about 1.5 billion—but they are more motivated than ever to contribute to their communities and be heard. Like so many generations before them, Generation Z and Generation Alpha face more age-related barriers to participating in society and being taken seriously than young generations before them have. Today’s 70- or 80-year-old members of Congress or corporate executives won’t live long enough to see all of the impacts of their decisions regarding climate change, COVID-19 or global conflicts—but today’s young people will. 

Aug. 12 is International Youth Day (IYD), and this year’s theme is intergenerational solidarity. Renewed intergenerational solidarity and concern for future generations is critical to tackling global issues not just for young people, but for aging populations and everyone in between. A key challenge for this generation is that they cannot “wait their turn” to make decisions—and adults need to stop underestimating the value of youth experience. Those young people who have identities that are marginalized on top of their youth—girls, young women, LGBTQ youth, racial or religious minorities, and/or young people with disabilities—are particularly tired of being told to wait their turn to speak and to wait for change. As ChildFund’s Voice Now youth advocate Mahera, who is 17 and from Indonesia, told us: “We are a citizen today, not tomorrow. Adults need to involve us now, in every issue that impacts [our] lives.” 

While the confluence of COVID, conflict and climate change is challenging this generation in unprecedented ways, they are also more informed and more global than any generation before. They understand that generations of young people who came before them have been fighting for many of the same things they fight for today. They are seeing first-hand that the previous generations’ inability to tackle climate change is having dire consequences today in the form of extreme weather eventsextreme heat and increased human displacement. In addition to climate change, youth are seeing social justice issues arise in real-time around them, and compounding injustices and rights abuses are causing a trust deficit between youth and institutions, leaders, teachers, and even within families. The WHO’s recent Global Report on Ageism found that young people face age-related barriers in areas such employment, education, political participation, health and justice, peace and security, and climate change.  

Adults and older generations should work with young people, not just for them—and see youth as experts of their own experiences.

Young people and adults must collaborate to promote equitable intergenerational relations and partnerships to make sure no one is left behind. ChildFund is working to change the way we work — from working for youth to working more closely with youth. In the more than 20 countries where we work, we are developing child- and youth-centered programming and advancing country advocacy plans that center young people’s voices and promote youth leadership. In Indonesia, for example, our youth forums give young people a platform to create public awareness campaigns about the issues most important to them, such as child marriage, bullying, public health and climate change. Young people developed their own media campaign using comics and movies to teach other young people how to cope with violence and bullying.

But ChildFund and our local partners can only do so much. We need Congress to pass the Girls LEAD (Leadership, Engagement, Agency, and Development) Act, which promotes girls’ leadership and participation in civic and political processes through U.S. foreign assistance. This bipartisan legislation is one critical step toward overcoming some of the systemic barriers to civic and political participation many girls face due to age and gender biases. Increased funding to support this work and to uplift diverse youth voices must be considered a core component of democracy building and intergenerational solidarity. We cannot just listen to young people who have had the same experiences we’ve had and who think the same way that we do.

Passing the Girls LEAD Act is one way that we can meaningfully bolster the capacity of civil and political institutions to engage with girls as agents of change and prioritize local and national girl-led or girl-focused civil society organizations. In addition to this legislation, there must be increased efforts within civil society to change how we view, and too often devalue, youth as inexperienced. Instead, we should see their inexperience as an asset—an opportunity to break free from entrenched social norms and allow their perspectives to contribute to new ways of thinking about old problems that have yet to be solved.

Young people—especially girls—will bear the greatest burden for global challenges like unemployment, climate change, ongoing conflict, and the long-term impacts of COVID on education and the economy—it is only right that we ensure they are part of the solutions to those issues today.

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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About and

Rachel Clement has a decade of experience working with and for youth and in developing policy and leading efforts to promote children’s rights globally. She is currently the Project Manager for Influencing the U.S. Government at ChildFund International. She co-chairs the Big Ideas for Women and Girls Coalition and the InterAction Children and Youth Working Group. She holds a Masters’ Degree from the George Washington University in International Development Studies and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Colorado.
Michael Boampong is the Senior Youth Advisor for ChildFund, where he ensures strong program delivery for youth in over 20 countries.