Montag, Juli 14, 2008


mental health

Knowing I would be the fourth speaker I tried to come up with a joke on mental health, but I could not think of any non-offensive one. This says a lot about stereotypes and stigma on mental health.

Anxiety and phobia, post traumatic stress, bipolar disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, Schizophrenia, learning disorders, Suicide, depression, attention deficit disorder, eating disorders, addictions – all on the rise and shocking high figures for youth in Europe.

The European Youth forum is an umbrella organisation of almost 100 National Youth Councils and International Non-Governmental Youth Organisations. Together with our members we are trying to be advocates for the well being of young people.

People with mental disorders are or can be particularly vulnerable to abuse and violations of their rights. Legislation should protect vulnerable citizens and should reflect that society cares for its people. Ironically in some countries, especially those where legislation has not been updated for many years, mental health legislation has resulted in violations rather then in promotion of human rights. They are often directed to protect members of the public from dangerous patients and causing more isolation and stigmatisation. Youth participation is vital for inclusion of youth and for integration into society.

Mental health problems can often arise in response to stress. Several elements of a young persons life - such as living away from home for the first time, exams, assessments, and financial worries - can cause high levels of stress, which can trigger mental health problems. With the debt burden set to rocket as a result of student loans, internships and precarious work contracts, this issue will become an increasingly important one for young people. Policy makers must make sure that the national implementation of Flexicurity does not lead to more stress factors for workers.

Additionally unfair denial of employment opportunities, discrimination in access to services, health insurance and housing policies, early school leaving or under achieving are both risk factors for and consequences of mental health problems.

Patient’s rights must include also for minors equality and non-discrimination, the right to privacy and individual autonomy, freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, the principle of the least restrictive environment, the right to information and participation. Discrimination is often also linked to excluding persons with mental disorders from many aspects of citizenship such as voting, driving, owning and using property, having rights to sexual reproduction and marriage, gaining access to the courts. Such restrictions must carefully be assessed as often they are based on improper or unnecessary barriers or burdens. Youth organisations working with young people, involving them and letting them gain competences and confidence are key actors for boosting active citizenship.

There is also a significant amount of indirect discrimination or lack of protection, let me give you an example: a countries labour laws may protect a person against indiscriminate dismissal, but there is no compulsion to temporarily move a person to a less stressful position, should they require some respite to recover from a relapse of their mental condition. The result may be that the person makes mistakes or fails to complete the work and is therefore dismissed on the basis of incompetence an inability to carry out allocated functions. This can happen even easier to young people who are more likely to work under precarious work conditions anyways.

A good and sustainable health and care system must understand people needs. This is paramount for young people – as wrong or bad treatment will cause vicious circles making an autonomous life impossible. The young person might not be able to finish school, get a job, and get his or her independent living. The European Unions education and training strategy is talking about key competences such as learning to learn – such key competences can only be achieved for all Europeans if there is enough support also to civic initiatives and youth organisations. Organisations that are based on peer learning and that focus on the learner.

Mental health disorders interfere with the way they think, feel, and act. Mental health influences the ways individuals look at themselves, their lives, and others in their lives. Therefore support to the whole family is integral. Systems of care must be developed on the premise that the mental health needs of children, adolescents, and their families can be met within their home, school, and community environments.

People who are discriminated against are more prone to substance abuse, eating disorders, homelessness, depression and suicide. Members of minorities groups such as for example LGBT students are subject to chronic and acute stress such as bullying in school, related to their stigmatised social position. Isolation and invisibility of their obstacles can easily lead to depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts. All schools must have anti-bullying and harassment policies, with explicitly defined steps and measures to take in case of bullying, not only for LGBT students.

The family is the place where children should learn to be happy and healthy so it's scandalous that at the moment most systems are completely failing families where a parent has a serious mental illness. Traumatic hospital visits for children, lack of support schemes and stigmatisation cause also mental health problems also for children.

The right to mental health is something that we all have and something that should be looked after. People who have mental health issues should not feel that they are unable to disclose these facts about their life because of fear of being labelled. It must be about respect and dignity and about receiving the services we deserve, desire and choose

A role of civil society is to provide the necessary info, resources and skills to enable youth to reach out, to get help for themselves and to know how they can support and give help to their friends who may be struggling with stress, mental health issues, self-harming behaviours or suicidal thoughts. We must eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness by reframing perceptions, disregarding stereotypes and equipping youth with the knowledge and information they need to affect change. Youth will only be empowered and confident to challenge such preconceptions if they are taken serious.


¸ Multi stakeholder approach for policy development, Multidisciplinary approach for the implementation
¸ Cross sector work to address different challenges in different policy fields
¸ Empowerment of young people though life long and life wide learning opportunities
¸ Raise the awareness that the EU can not reach its growth and jobs objectives without adequately addressing mental health
¸ The role of youth organisations: speak the same language, hang out at the same places and work with peer support schemes
¸ Actively encourage and resource peer support systems
¸ Increase public awareness about the importance of protecting and nurturing the mental health of young people
¸ Foster recognition that many children have mental health problems that are real, painful, and sometimes severe
¸ Encourage caregivers to seek early, appropriate treatment and services
Invest more in research on mental health of young people

Donnerstag, Juli 10, 2008


how democratic are our democracies?

Increasing participation through inclusiveness
Youth organisations play a key role in reducing the gap between where decisions about society are made and where they are implemented. We do this by being there both when decisions are made and when they are carried out. We are engaged in opening up political processes at all levels, and making them accessible to young people. Efforts to ensure equal participation are central to the work of many NGOs, who remain conscious of the internal atmosphere at meetings and in their structures, given that exclusion happens easily and is sometimes hard to notice unless specific attention is drawn to it.

This can, however, unfortunately not counter balance the inadequate representation of youth in parliaments or in governments. The marginalisation of many young people and the discrimination of many women, migrants, people with disabilities or those living in poverty, leads to exclusion. Racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia are still, like other forms of discrimination, not abstract but a sad and daily reality and hinder the full participation of many people living in Europe today.

Increasing the awareness of teachers, police officers, health and care workers, public administration, and Human Resource Units, to name but a few, is indispensable to increasing opportunities for all. Such action implies the genuine extension of opportunities to the most marginalised in society, to enable them to exercise the power that the rest of society takes for granted; for youth organisations and NGOs, this means reaching out to oppressed youth and making sure that they are provided the space to speak for themselves, are listened to, and are heard.

The struggle for proportional representation seems to be the same – from the bible to the present day. Matthew's Parable of the Talents starts with each servant receiving money according to his ability. Matthew 25:29 concludes "For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." The servant receiving the least money is in addition condemned for his lack of action.

Looking into participation projects, we can sometimes see the same effect, some projects often tend to give more opportunities to those who already have many opportunities, to those who are well integrated and articulate, especially when it comes to one-off events without prior support schemes. If we want to advocate towards a culture of participation – we must ensure disparities are counterbalanced – being proactive and 'hands-on' is not equally feasible for every citizen.

Increasing participation through law
In 1950, 40% of the EU25 population was under 25; that figure fell to 30% by 2000 and is expected to be less than a quarter by 2025, according to the Bureau of European Policy Advisers’ consultation paper on Europe’s social reality. The proportion of the EU25 population over 65 is forecast to rise from almost 16% in 2000 to 22% in 2025 and 30% in 2050, contrasting with 9% a century earlier in 1950. Due to this rapid demographic change, young people are facing growing challenges to finding their place in a society where older generations, who are traditionally more conservative and reluctant to change, become a majority. As young people are becoming a minority in Europe, the decisions taken by the majority are becoming less reflective of young people's views and expectations. The YFJ, therefore, brings to the European debate the lowering of the voting age to 16 across Europe.

The decisions taken by the majority are becoming less reflective of young people's views and expectations. Lowering the voting age to 16 could ensure a broader representation of young people in collective decisions affecting them. Whereas young people between 16 and 18 often have responsibilities as employees, taxpayers or parents, lowering the voting age to 16 would restore the balance between their rights and responsibilities. A minimum representation of young people in elected positions should also exist in order to lower this demographic gap. Any political strategy for youth cannot succeed without the engagement of young people themselves. An investment and empowerment strategy for young people is what we need to overcome all these current social challenges. After all, youth prosperity is everybody's responsibility.

Increasing participation through empowerment
EU communications commissioner Margot Wallström recently highlighted her dismay regarding the "reign of old men" in Brussels corridors: "An inner circle of male decision-makers agree behind closed doors on whom to nominate to EU top jobs," she told the Swedish daily Sydsvenska Dagbladet, in February 2008. Observations such as these indicate that the same old story is being repeated - those who are in power reproduce the power structures to preserve their own positions.

NGOs as well as public authorities must be conscious of the risk of reproducing structures of exclusion, and serving as the hothouse for elites. In seeking to demonstrate that we are responsible leaders, youth leaders must embody the diversity of our constituencies, recognising their heterogeneous needs, and duly articulating them. For youth organisations, reaching out goes beyond quota systems, political correctness, or ill-thought out idealism; reaching out means providing excluded youth with opportunities for participation, and access to those opportunities. This signifies a true acceptance of the agency of young people to make decisions and act on their own behalf no matter where they stand in life right now. We must also actively encourage young people to constantly voice their views, needs, and concerns - towards youth organisations and, through us, towards other stakeholders.

WASP is a term used in the United States - an acronym for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, referring to a group that were ruling the country for centuries. In Europe WHAM (white heterosexual able-bodied man) is used to describe the leading elite. It is time for more diversity in Europe’s leadership, no matter if they be Majors in the military or business CEOs – decision-making must be more reflective of constituents in order to be sustainable.
Let's leave WHAM in the 80's.

Dienstag, Juli 08, 2008


Work and family life balance

Today’s young people are the most educated generation ever. However, youth are not only finding it difficult to find jobs, but are finding it even harder to find decent jobs: young people in Europe are more likely to be working long hours, on short-term and informal contracts, with low pay, with little or no social protection, and with no voice in the workplace. In other words, we are amongst the most flexible with the least protection on the labour market. This is definitely not benefiting the reconciliation between private and professional life.

Young people are not afraid of work, we wish to contribute to the society and be part of development. We also strive to establish stable families in a safe environment. In these aspirations we are no different from other people, regardless of age. However, being at the beginning of our professional lives, young people face severe obstacles in entering the work sphere, facing difficulties in our transitions from education to employment; as they often struggle with precarious jobs where salaries are low and social protection conditions are scarce or inexistent.

Work life balance is therefore not really very balanced, and this mismatch needs to be altered.

The European Youth Forum, independently established by youth organisations and made up of 95 National Youth Councils and International Non-Governmental Youth Organisations - themselves, federations of youth organisations - brings together tens of millions of young people from all over Europe, organised in order to represent their common interests. Our working priorities are Education, Employment and Social Affairs, Human Rights, Youth Work Development, Youth Participation and Youth Mainstreaming.

I am not a scientist or a policy maker, as a youth work practitioner I can mainly point out problems and suggest approaches for solutions. One part of the solutions is definitely the involvement of youth organisations. Youth Organisations can breach the gap between the definition of policies and their implementation. Generally it is paramount to have a transversal and multi stakeholder approach to address complex challenges of private and professional life balance.

In order to achieve full work and life balance work I am looking at three levels, the legal, on the cultural and on the individual level. Let me explain what that would mean in practise.

1. We have to work on a legal level – guaranteeing rights, prohibiting and sanctioning discrimination and assuring access to, for example, infrastructure, goods and services.

Health and safety at work – occupations accidents happen much more often to young people and people new in a job;
Social protection – which would mean for young people that Flexicurity must boost our security
Social services such as health, childcare, long term care of other dependants
Ensuring decent and quality work conditions
Employment, Education, Goods and Service provisions must be free of discrimination when it comes to marital of family status

Let me share one example with yout – internships:
There is a rapid numerical increase of internships in Europe, this is linked to the need to combine education and work. The Youth Forum acknowledges that, especially when they are part of education curricula, internships are a positive tool to facilitate young people’s access to employment. But the learning dimension of internships has been reducing significantly with a majority of interns working on issues that will not allow them to progress in their professional development. Additionally, in the degraded economic context that Europe has experienced in the last decades, the reality has been that employers are more and more recruiting graduates as interns unfortunately without offering them any labour law protection and often without any or very limited financial compensation. Their motivation is in fact lacking any educational dimension and it is regrettably often limited to the willingness to reduce their staff costs. Thus we are welcoming commission initiative on a code of conduct for interns, which should be an enhancement of the lives of many young people in Europe. But it is also clear that internships are not really making a work and life balance possible, as this is giving insecurity.

The complexity and diversity of employment contracts offered in the European segmented labour markets call for the development of guidance and legal counselling systems, which are accessible for everyone. Young people and people with lower qualifications have otherwise no chance for enforcing their rights. This has to be combined with easily accessible, optimised and standardised contract forms with text modules to facilitate contractual work arrangements for the employer and employee.

Flexicurity – flexibility for the employee, right to part time work without infringements of social protection, contractual arrangement that allow better for life long learning and for example working and studying parallel. All of these issues would need to be addressed on a legal level.

2. We have to work on a cultural level – raising awareness of problems, changing attitudes and being agents of this change.

Rigid role models make the lives of many people who do not fulfil a given legal norm and make many lives miserable; a prototype of how a good mother has to be that only exists in fairy tale but is still all too present in peoples minds.

Working long hours is not a sign of ambition but is unhealthy and is not reflecting the different responsibilities the people have in life.

Many people depend financially on paid over time which is not allowing any balance between private and professional life.

This is clearly very complex, as attitudes change very slow. Unfortunately it is still women who do the main share of the unpaid work, which has effects on their pay check and on their careers in the paid world of work.

Life long learning is often more of a luxury then anything else, especially when having dependants to take care of. Not to talk about quality leisure time – art, culture and sports or civic engagement – which all has long term consequences for example on health.

3. We have to work on the level of individual support – enabling and empowering the marginalised and discriminated to make choice possible.

Some people face more struggles like others, they need specific and tailored support. It is unfortunately the case that many people seem to be stuck in a lifetime of disadvantage; the problems they face are multiple, entrenched and often passed down across generations. To break such enduring cycles of adversity, urgent action is needed, allowing every person to realise his or her aspirations and potential. Such action implies the genuine extension of opportunities to the most marginalised in society.
How could one be expected to get children in such a situation? Or to invest in a business start-up?

The importance of professional guidance and systematic advices in career planning becomes evident. Especially when thinking about multiple discrimination.

A work - life balance is relevant for everyone:
Not only a problem of women even though an urgent change of culture is needed here.
Not only a problem of parents and potential parents – childlessness must not be punished.
Quality of life in such a rich society must be there for everyone; is basis for healthy aging, it must be guaranteed for people with or without children, for people with other dependant people; issues such as long term care for people with disabilities or older people is integral to achieve this aim.

When the Green Paper “Modernising labour law to meet the challenges of the 21st century” states that “the original purpose of labour law was to offset the inherent economic and social inequality within the employment relationship” it seems to suggest that this is not any longer a valid role for labour law. The European Youth Forum on the contrary believes that this still needs to be considered as an important role for labour law, which is especially relevant for young people and even more for the low skilled work force to guarantee a private and professional life balance.

Given the risk that young people get trapped in a succession of short-term, low quality jobs with inadequate social protection leaving them in a vulnerable position. There is indeed a very small number of people who do indeed benefit from the flexibility of a precarious work situation, but it is mainly the highly educated ones. The majority of young people entering the labour market on the margin just prolong their transition from childhood and dependence on the family to adulthood. This continuous lack of autonomy prevents us from making plans or investments in our own life such as family planning.

When my mum had me more then 25 years ago- the kindergarden was only opened from 8am -12 noon every day and was closed during over 12 weeks of school holidays during the year this has fortunately changed by now, but is still far from mirroring working hours; further progress is definitely needed.

Today we have all over Europe smaller families with nuclear family living, lower parental control, higher youth autonomy, more responsibilities, older age at marriage and childbearing, high levels of fertility control including childlessness, or higher women's status and independence.
At the same time we have less fixed contract jobs, increasing rent and property prices, little or no care facilities for smaller babies and not enough long term care support.

Autonomy signifies that young people have the necessary support, resources and opportunities to choose to live independently; enjoy the possibility of full social and political participation in all sectors of everyday life; and be able to take independent decisions. Employment and education are important prerequisites for young people in achieving autonomy. In addition, a wider range of services and policies need to considered in order to support the independence and well-being of young people that is needed in transition towards adulthood.

In order to be inclusive, fair and reliable, a European Social Model must encompass and ensure autonomy of young people through access to quality basic services (such as healthcare and transport), housing, social protection as well as safe and healthy living environment. In the challenging context of demographic change, migration and changes in economies, it must be ensured that these social systems that play key role in supporting young people’s autonomy are reformed and exist in favour of intergenerational solidarity.

If a good reconciliation between private and work life is not possible in one of the richest regions of the world, then we do some things wrong.

Montag, Juli 07, 2008


Refugee Rights

A rights-based approach to migration is needed if full integration in society is to be achieved. While I appreciate the European Commission proposal that both refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection should be able to gain long-term residency status in the EU, I strongly regret the resistance by some EU countries, such as Spain, Italy, Austria or the Czech Republic, to this approach.

EU countries should not apply double standards to human rights; they should allow migrants to benefit from civil rights as close as possible to those enjoyed by their citizens. In other words, migration policy should focus on integration based on mutual respect rather than on control.

Refugees tend to represent a diminishing part of the migrants. However, wars and new threats, such as climate change, may increase the number of displaced people who wish to migrate to Europe. In the fight against irregular immigration, some European countries do not always respect their international commitments towards refugees.

Migrant children are entitled to have the same rights as their national or resident counterparts, so they should be treated as children first and foremost, regardless of their migrant status. Unacceptable to keep them in detention.

Furthermore, rights should be granted while migrants await a decision on their status; quicker decision-making mechanisms regarding asylum are needed.

Minors are among the world’s most vulnerable populations and are at particular risk of abuse when they are separated from their parents and other care-givers.
As for the provisional agreement in the European Parliament that member states should be allowed to keep immigrants in detention for up to 18 months if there is a delay obtaining the necessary documentation from third countries, it should be noted that a few thousand minors are detained every year in Europe due to their irregular migration status, even though UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child states that detention shall only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period of time. European countries must ensure that the international and regional instruments protecting separated children and youth are fully implemented.

Migration in Europe affects a large number of aspects of the lives of young people, those who migrate and those who cohabitate with migrants.

Mittwoch, Juli 02, 2008


Integration and participation of youth in local and regional life

“Participation and active citizenship is about having the right, the means, the space, the opportunity and, where necessary, the support to participate in and influence decisions and engage in actions and activities so as to contribute to building a better society,” states the preamble to the Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life; This Charter is for us, the European Youth Forum the most important and comprehensive document on youth participation. It is an honour for me to speak here today and share with you the Youth Forums ideas of participation.

The European Youth forum is an umbrella organisation of almost 100 National Youth Councils and International Non-Governmental Youth Organisations. Together with our members we are trying to be advocates for Human Rights and Participation in our daily work and this is why we see the work of the Congress in this field as so fundamental.

Democracy is, for us, much more than a specific institutional structure with decisions based on majority - democratisation is a process that empowers people and includes them in society. This being said, one cannot fail to recognise that much still remains to be done to truly realise these ambitions in the democracies we see in Europe may they be national, local or regional. Indeed, it is reassuring to see that the Committee chose to discuss this matter that is so often marginalised by being taken for granted whilst we should always strive to improve the quality and extent of the democratic structures. We surely welcome that you aim to challenge the view that public institutions are inaccessible. I am delighted that the explanatory memorandum refers to the importance of lowering the voting age – an important demand of the YFJ.

Public authorities must be conscious of the risk of producing structures of exclusion, and serving as the hothouse for elites only. For development and prosperity it is integral to embody the diversity of our constituencies, recognising their heterogeneous needs, and duly articulating them. This must go beyond quota systems, political correctness, or ill-thought out idealism; reaching out means providing excluded youth with opportunities for participation, and access to those opportunities. This signifies a true acceptance of the agency of young people to make decisions and act on their own behalf no matter where they stand in life right now. Therefore participation must be seen as a culture rather then a one off activity.

The Charter Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life is so important because local and regional structures are closest to young people and we are directly influenced and affected by any decision taken. It is an excellent tool to facilitate participation of young people as the revised charter embraces a whole range of policies that concern young people when calling for the meaningful involvement of young people in decisions and actions on issues such as employment, housing, education, transport, health, mobility, access to culture, environment, violence and anti-discrimination. The charter also refers to tools such as training, information, media, volunteering and the role of youth organisations. This charter must be brought to live and must be used in ever more cities, municipalities and regions. As the explanatory memorandum states – a mechanism to guide, observe, stimulate, promote, support and report on the implementation of the charter is needed. We fully agree that a continuous basis would certainly help in maximising the potential of such a crucial instrument.

Youth organisations play a key role in reducing the gap between where decisions about society are made and where they are implemented. We do this by being there both when decisions are made and when they are carried out. We are engaged in opening up political processes at all levels, and making them accessible to young people. Our wish and ability is to contribute with a spirit of enquiry, new thinking and competence.

It is unfortunately the case that many people seem to be stuck in a lifetime of disadvantage; the problems they face are multiple, entrenched and often passed down across generations. To break such enduring cycles of adversity, urgent action is needed, allowing every person to realise his or her aspirations and potential. Well thought-out participation structures can serve as stepping-stones out of this sets of bad experiences, they may be the first time that young people are taken serious and their ideas are heard. Such rewarding practice is good for the confidence and can open up entirely new perspectives for young people.

“You are turning into a penguin, stop it”
This is a quote from the “Hitchhikers guide to galaxy” where Arthur Dent says this to Ford. To understand the quote you need to know more about penguins.
Penguins like to stay in groups to remain warm and what they want most of all is FISH. Penguins are no daring animals and they do not feel the urge to explore.
But we want young people to dare and to explore, we want them to stick up their heads and be active citizens. And we need you to support this active engagement and provide the means and the spaces for it because we definitely want more then fish.


for diogo

this one is for Diogo!

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