Voices of Our Tomorrow

Why Youth Voice Matters

By: Fatimah Rasul

“I raise my voice not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.” 

These words were spoken by Malala Yousafzai when she was only 16 years old. Malala Yousafzai was just a teenager in Mingora, Pakistan, when she was shot in the head by a masked gunman on her way home from school. 

Even though education for women is a fundamental right according to Pakistan’s constitution, gender still determines access and discrimination is an issue. Malala ignored the countless threats and protests and said her education meant more to her than anything. 

Her determination ended in a life-changing injury. 

Though you would think this would frighten her enough to not attend school again, it did the exact opposite and fueled her passion for getting her education back. 

Malala’s recovery allowed her enough time to think about all the other girls who weren’t allowed to go to school, and who were hidden in fear. 

She realized she must stand up for her fellow sisters, and went back to school despite her parents’ wishes. On top of going back to school, she began to advocate for other women in Pakistan who were silenced in fear and deprived of a basic education. 

Although she continued receiving threats and backlash and a child herself, she made a difference in hundreds of thousands of young women’s lives, continued her education at the University of Oxford, and went on to receive a Nobel prize. 

Malala’s success in helping her community shows how influential young people can be when they are involved with their communities. However, so many children and teens are turned away from being involved in their communities because ‘they are just kids’, but these ‘kids’ can make enormous change around them, when guided and given the opportunity. 

Offering more resources and engagement opportunities to young people will benefit them by giving them more tools and experiences to be successful adults. More opportunities will also bridge the gap between adults and children to work together, and make teens feel like their voice is being heard and appreciated. 

If we involve young people in our communities, soon enough we’re going to have hundreds of other Malala Yousafzai’s around the world advocating for and helping their communities. 

Speaking as someone who has had the opportunity to get involved and engage in their community, I know that community engagement has offered me endless opportunities and opened many doors for me to further exceed. 

But I also understand that not everyone has had the resources that I have been given and aren’t able to be involved. That’s why I think it’s important for adults in every occupation to be open and willing to reach out to the young people around them. 

One day, there will be a need for new doctors, librarians, and presidents. We want younger generations to be skilled enough to do those jobs and having relationships with adults now who guide them on that path is critical. 

In smaller communities, there needs to be more outlets where teens can find community service, internships, and work experience. These are all things that will only benefit adults and young people alike. 

It is not uncommon for young people to feel like they don’t have a say in their communities, or their voices don’t matter. Through so much happening — from politics, the pressure from school, and the global pandemic — many teens want to help in their communities. One of the only things stopping them is the idea that says teen voices and opinions aren’t important. 

Many times when young people do try to get involved, they are dismissed and waved away while hearing “you’re not old enough,” “ you wouldn’t understand, you’re just a kid,” or “ why are you worried, you are just a kid.” All of these sayings are harmful, in their own way. 

It is time we change the social norm and allow teens/children to have a seat at our table. Young people are our future and we need to do everything we can to help them succeed.


Editor’s note:

The idea of youth voice takes on many forms, including sharing experiences and ideas with policy makers, which many of the young people of Our Tomorrow have done. Youth leaders within the Our Tomorrow network have learned about funding for youth services and are participating in a task force with adults to form recommendations on investments in youth, presented their ideas on sex education to the State Board of Education, and participated in our annual civics fair, Speak Up! Speak Out! 

However, young people’s experiences and ideas are abundant and we at Our Tomorrow and UP Partnership wanted to create a space for them to share their thoughts on current issues they face and those they see on the news. Voices of Our Tomorrow is a series of blogs that we will share every Thursday that highlight these experiences, thoughts and opinions.

These thoughts and opinions do not expressly represent the thoughts of UP Partnership, its leadership team or board of directors.