Stand with us, but don’t speak for us

A message to Ita from young people

By Plan International Australia’s 2020 youth activists 
 
So, Ita Buttrose thinks today’s young people lack resilience and just need a good hug. Well we hate to break it to you Ita, but we don’t want pity – we’d prefer your understanding. 
 
It’s not easy to be a young person in 2020. 
 
Young Australians like us have grown up being constantly lectured about how we don’t know what being tough means. We are beaten down every time we want to have some input into political, economic or social conversations, and seen as delusional for expressing any challenges we may be facing. Just look at the backlash to the School Strike 4 Climate rallies. 
 
So far, we can already see that the COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately affected young people in employment, education, mental health, physical health and many other areas.  
 
Young Australians aged between 15 to 24 are amongst the hardest hit by the current employment crisis. As of June 2020, the unemployment rate for this group sat at staggering 16.4%. We are concerned about financial security and the crippling debt that we are may already be struggling to manage or will have to in the near future. 
 
Young women are already experiencing job losses because they are overrepresented in the casual workforce. They are also more likely to work in customer service or care jobs to support themselves and/or their families, despite having limited access to paid leave and despite a higher risk of becoming ill.  
 
Even before COVID-19, entry level jobs were scarce but now they are near impossible to find. So we have had to muster up an incredible amount of resilience to avoid simply giving up or burning out.
 
Many have resorted to volunteering in multiple unpaid roles to build up enough experience. 

Even despite the lack of jobs, young people are taking advantage of online learning courses and digital workshops with industry experts to ensure they are job ready, with relevant skills for a changing job market.
 
Young people are also battling through the physical and psychological health impacts of isolation and other substantive issues occurring across the globe.  
 
We do not have the luxury of completing degrees for free like so many of our parents and grandparents did.

Many of us are now confronted with increasing fees for many degrees, which means many of us are having to shelve our career plans we have dreamed of for many years. 

So many of us can’t access accessibility supports within all levels of education, and yet are expected to perform to certain educational standards. 
 
Loss of social support under COVID-19 lockdown has led to massive increases in loneliness and has restricted access to services that protect us from harm. This means we will see an increase in suicide rates of young people in Australia. 
 
And let’s not forget the biggest elephant in the room: climate. 

The She Has a Plan report by Plan International Australia - the charity for girls equality - shows that girls and young women see climate change (53%) as a continuing concern affecting their livelihoods and futures, followed by violence against women and girls (18%), gender inequality (9%) and poverty (7%). 
 
More than any other generation that has been before, we now face climate change as a very real, present and dangerous threat in our lives. 
 
We young people have a lot on our plates. That’s why comments about our perceived lack of resilience are really unhelpful. They’re simply unwarranted and ill-informed. 
 
Before you suggest that we don’t have resilience, you need to recognise that many systems currently operating do not instil hope it the outcomes of our future. And the reality is, we have barely any say around the policies and decision-making that affects our lives. 
 
We don’t want hugs and sympathy. We want what we have been demanding for long before COVID-19: greater support for our needs and investment in a just and sustainable future. 
 
We need to put an end to this idea that certain generations are more resilient than others. Despite all we are going through and all the uncertainty ahead, young people in this country are persevering and we are working hard to turn the tide. 
 
We would invite Ita to sit with us and have a long and meaningful discussion about what our generation is facing and how we’re weathering the storm, so that she can start to really see things from our perspective. 
 
Our hope is that through this process, she might speak alongside young people, rather than speaking for us.  
 
Sincerely, 
 
A group of resilient Gen-Zers 

Youth activists Angelica Youth activist Libby
 
The Plan International Australia Youth Activist Series empowers incredible young women to campaign and advocate on social issues. It is supported by The Body Shop Australia. 

 
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