On July 11th, DARE had the opportunity to participate in the EU coordinated civil society seminar in connection to the EU-Lao PDR Human Rights Dialogue 2022 in Brussels. The seminar brought together representatives of Lao civil society organizations, Lao government representatives, EU-based civil society organizations and European Union representatives to discuss youth development and participation.
The day began with opening remarks from Mercedes Cornejo Bareas, program manager for the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Partnerships, who commented on the importance of civil society dialogue within and beyond Laos. In the morning session, the discussion centered around youth empowerment and participation in education and community development, including women rights and gender equality. DARE was able to highlight a European understanding of non-formal education, youth empowerment and youth participation, and to highlight several projects in the network which focus on and integrate youth participation as a core element. A particular focus was the DARE project SSYS Youth Promoters in Timore Leste, which over the past year, has sought to build the competences of youth and youth workers in Timor Leste for co-creating learning spaces for active citizenship, a peaceful and healthy life.
Other presentations on the topic of youth participation in eduation and community development included:
- The Huam Jai Association of Laos on “The Youth-Adult Partnership provincial volunteer program: experiences and best practices for youth empowerment and citizens participation”
- The Gender Development Association of Laos on “Child and adolescent rights in education and livelihood, including of ethnic girls”
- The Lao Youth Union on “The Lao National Youth Development Strategy 2021-2030 – priorities and ways for implementation with and for youth and the civil society”
- Plan International Finland on “My Body, My Future – Experience on youth empowerment and participation”
The afternoon session of the seminar focused on youth empowerment and participation in green development and environmental protection. Several Laotian and European organizations presented their work and opened up an opportunity for further discussion. Contributions came from:
- The PhaTadKe Association of Laos on “My Health, My Planet – Communicating rights and sustainability to and through youth”
- The Community Association for Knowledge in Development of Laos on “Youth empowerment: Awareness raising on environmental and labour rights”
- The Wildlife Conservation Society of Laos on “Youth participation and rights promotion in natural resources management and protection”
- WWF Belgium on “Approach and tools to support young citizens committed to the protection and value of nature”
Youth are an important resource for development and rights promotion. This is a stark reality in Laos, where young people make up, in contrast to aging societies like in Europe, a growing part of the Lao population. A special emphasis is needed on youth not just as subjects of programs and educational offers, but as actors of change themselves with the capacity to promote human rights, environmental rights and active citizenship. This requires space and opportunities, both in Europe and in Laos. The importance of partnerships was also clear; partnerships between youth and CSOs, CSOs and local government, and between CSOs themselves. Finally, a major focus was placed on youth consultation and ownership of the organizational projects and processes.
Learning about individual projects and civil society at large in two different regional contexts shows that many of the same challenges and opportunities exist, and that there are many different ways of moving forward to advance youth participation and civil society at large.