Every 15th of September, we celebrate the International Day of Democracy, which was established by the United Nations in 2007 to celebrate, promote and recognize the principles of democracy. While the way in which democracy is expressed across the world may vary, it is defined by citizens’ ability to participate in public decision-making, typically through choosing their government.
In New Zealand, we accept democracy as a fact of life, perhaps to the extent that we forget that many other countries around the world do not have the right to choose their political representatives based on their policies and ideas. Not only do we take for granted our right to choose our leader, but also the other freedoms associated with democracy – our rights to freedom of association, of assembly, of protest, of speech and expression. We feel that we can ultimately hold the government accountable for decisions we disagree with, so the government is wise to largely adhere to its voters’ views.
To understand how democracy forms an integral part of society, you only need to spend some time on the steps of New Zealand’s Parliament, watching groups with posters, banners, microphones and passion, loudly and visibly bringing public and political attention to an issue which is important to them and holding the government to account, no matter how big or small the issue. New Zealanders feel secure in their right to criticize the government directly, in the news media, or online. We take these rights for granted, however, it is important to remember that people overseas in 2018 have been arrested for less.
In many ways, democracy is about more than just casting a vote. It represents a system where the government serves the people, not subdues or controls them. We give over money through taxes and some rights to our personal autonomy in favour of a government which administers the collective funds and rights for the good of the majority. We trust the government to do well by us and if it fails, it loses in the ballot box.
For most New Zealanders, the thought of living under a non-democratic or one-party government is resigned largely to dystopian literature and films. The turnout of young people at the voting booths is low; we underestimate the power our vote has to influence the future of tomorrow. However, some of our closest geographic neighbours have restrictions on political freedoms which we really cannot fathom living under. We are lucky in this regard – New Zealand can look forward to a future where everyone is free to express their views, disagree with or criticize the government, protest, and be actively encouraged to do so.
To celebrate the International Day of Democracy, think about how you can participate fully in political life. Did you vote in the last election? If you didn’t vote or you aren’t yet old enough to vote, do some research into the importance of voting in a democratic society, find political parties whose policies align with your beliefs, and understand what is important to you and how best you can have your voice heard by the leaders of our country.
Central to the work a humanitarian does, is the care of people and promotion of their welfare.
A couple of weeks ago World Humanitarian Day recognised the incredible work done by our many humanitarians across the world, particularly aid workers who put their lives at risk for the welfare of others. This day also strives to raise awareness of the countless people adversely impacted by armed conflict. Where finding safe drinking water and nutritious food is a daily struggle. Where children are stripped of their innocence and right to education by being used to fight wars they didn’t start or want. Where women are degraded. Where every citizen, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and occupation are put in a compromised position of mental and physical safety day in and day out.
The work our countless humanitarians do is particularly important when considering our contemporary societal contexts; where conflicts are rampant.
We, as citizens of Aotearoa are placed in a fortunate position in the sense that these aren’t problems for us – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about the welfare of others; that doesn’t mean we can’t be humanitarians in our own respects. I challenge anyone reading this to be a humanitarian – to thank your friends, families, caregivers, bus drivers and teachers for doing all they do to make your life a safe and enjoyable one. I challenge you to take the time to reach out to both those you know, and those you don’t, and offer a hand, a shoulder to cry on.
My high school principal used to tell a lot of super inspiring stories. There are a few that stand out. Among these, lies the message that small acts of kindness can go a long way. Therefore, I challenge you to be there for those around you, to support them; to be a humanitarian. Let’s do our part to help make a world ridden of conflict, one a little brighter and a little safer.
When someone mentions political friendships the first thing that pops into my mind is the Obama-Biden bromance. While I wish this blog post was all about the iconic pair, it’s arguably a little old news, and also not surprising given they hold similar values and work closely together in the same political party striving for the same outcomes. As heartwarming as that might be, and certainly a great friendship to celebrate on international friendship day, it doesn’t challenge us or broaden our perspectives.
The world is becoming an increasingly polarized and divided place. From facebook algorithms that ensure we only see news and blogs that reinforce our already narrowing beliefs, to the research that shows spatial geographical patterning of people based on political views. This is a scary trend for communities and individuals, the more we hear about our perspective on any issue without actively challenging it, the more deeply rooted we become in it. Arguably sometimes even blindly rooted. We lose flexibility in our opinions or even the desire to try to understand a different perspective.
Edward De Bono calls it the ‘logic bubble’. When you genuinely listen and understand someone’s place in the world, you can see into their ‘logic bubble’. Their view of the world which influences their opinions. The more we only interact with people who possess the same logic bubble as us, the harder it is to break out. Understanding someone else’s ‘logic bubble’ means that we are aware of our own- what created it, what it looks like, why it’s there and how this impacts our view of the world. It creates empathy and helps us recognise our subconscious biases. It also allows us to detach the emotion and deep-rooted “difference” we feel when we are confronted with someone who has different opinions. It allows us to look logically at the experiences and knowledge that has led us to this point. We can critique, embrace or disregard any new experience and knowledge that may change our opinion and how we act as a result.
Somewhat surprisingly, politicians maybe understand this best. They are so deeply rooted in their political beliefs that they make it their life’s work to implements them. They are also continually facing critique of these logic bubbles, justifying them and refining them. So, while some people find cross-party political friendships unusual or surprising, they are a great demonstration of how we can put differences aside and prioritize friendship through communal challenges or triumphs.
The increasingly humourous ‘bromance’ between National spokesperson for youth, Chris Bishop and Act party leader David Seymour, shows while their party lines differ on political ideas such as housing, education and immigration, their desire for wanting the nation to endure through another week of Seymours twerking on dancing with the stars and posting throwback Thursday photos of their younger selves prevails.
Further from our shores, we have seen Bill Clinton call George W. Bush “a brother from another mother,” despite campaigning against many things he stood for. Their shared stories of grandparenting allowed them to work towards common goals rather than divide over differences. Similar to Bob Dole and George McGovern who “knew what we had in common was far more important than our different political philosophies” and allowed them to work on fighting hunger around the world.
These individuals and their unusual friendship demonstrate that the common goals and shared stories friendship can offer go beyond political boundaries. Now more than ever we need people to consciously go against the system that is continually dividing us and seek out people with differing perspectives and understand not only other’s ‘logic bubbles’ but also our own.
While it’s tempting to simply hold on to the idealism of the Obama-Biden friendship and tag your friends in the great memes it has produced all while keeping your conversations safely within your ‘logic bubble’. Communal challenge and triumph as opposed to highlighting differences makes us better people, better friends, better communities and allows us to create a better world.
To celebrate World Refugee Day we spoke to one of New Zealand’s most inspiring former refugees, Rez Gardi. Rez was named Young New Zealander of the Year 2017 for her services to human rights. She was born in a refugee camp and arrived in New Zealand under the refugee quota.
Rez told us that growing up, she was embarrassed of her refugee background. The desire to fit in and be as “Kiwi” as possible was strong. Now, she has learnt to be proud of her background. Her unique refugee journey has instilled her with drive and passion to make a difference. She says she is only one, among many incredible former refugees who make a huge impact locally and globally. However, negative opinions and thoughts about refugees still linger.
Her organisation Empower is trying to change the negative connotations and stigma attached to being a refugee and re-define it as a term that embraces resilience and strength.
We asked Rez in more detail about some of her work, life as a young refugee, and what other young people can do to support people of refugee backgrounds.
What work do you do that lead to you winning the Young New Zealander of the Year Award in 2017?
I foster and support participation, leadership, and empowerment opportunities for young refugees in New Zealand. I founded the Empower Youth Trust, a mentoring and support initiative aimed at addressing the underrepresentation of refugees in higher education.
Our mission is to empower, educate, and enable refugee youth in New Zealand through education, leadership, and capacity-building to pursue meaningful paths of their choice.
This initiative goes in hand with the University of Auckland refugee scholarships I have helped establish. I was one of the original founding members of the Global Refugee Youth Consultations, which led to the establishment of the Global Youth Advisory Council (GYAC) for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Through my work as a global youth advocate, I reinforce youth as connectors and peacebuilders by channeling and reinforcing youths’ abilities to build connections across social, cultural, linguistic, political, and other differences, and support them to contribute meaningfully to peacebuilding processes. I have used this award as a platform to raise awareness about the adversity and challenges that many marginalised groups face in New Zealand, and globally, and to promote a greater tolerance and acceptance for diversity.
How are the challenges that a young refugee faces different from those the average young person in New Zealand faces?
Through the Global Refugee Youth Consultations in 2015/2016, young refugees analysed causes and impacts of the difficulties they face. Although the context of each country is specific, the challenges that refugee youth identified are remarkably consistent. We identified ten challenges:
Difficulties with legal recognition and obtaining personal documents;
Difficulty in accessing quality learning, education, and skills-building opportunities;
Poor access to youth-sensitive healthcare, including psychological support;
Lack of safety, security and freedom of movement;
Discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and “culture clash”;
Few youth employment and livelihood opportunities;
Challenges for unaccompanied youth;
Lack of opportunities to participate, be engaged, or access decision makers;
Lack of information about asylum, refugee rights, and available services; and
Gender inequality, discrimination, exploitation, and violence, including for LGBTI youth.
In addition to all the usual challenges young people face in New Zealand, the situation is exacerbated for those of refugee background who have come to New Zealand with absolutely nothing and are thrown into a completely foreign and new world. They are starting on a back foot for a number of reasons.
Firstly, due to the trauma they may have experienced having fled their homes and being exposed to violence, the culture shock of arriving in New Zealand with no understanding of culture or norms. Coupled with language barriers, assumptions and xenophobia in regard to their experiences and culture many refugee youth experience bullying and discrimination.
Many young refugees experience and interrupted or lack of education so they have to play ‘catch up’. Aside from financial issues, when youth miss years of schooling due to being on the move, some refugee and migrant youth face issues enrolling in the level from where they left off as legally they are too old and have no available options to catch up. This requires us to be innovative in the way we approach education issues. It is common for many refugee youth to encounter a reversal in roles with their parents. At such a young age, they are called
upon to translate for their parents at the doctors, appointment, supermarket and even during their own parent-teacher interviews. There is a sense of responsibility as a refugee youth that is never placed upon mainstream New Zealanders.
What can young New Zealanders do to support refugees within their local communities and globally?
New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse nations on earth and we are also one of the most peaceful: it’s up to us, as everyday New Zealanders to ensure this is a legacy we leave for future generations.
Our biggest challenge is how we choose to live our lives and what kind of country we let New Zealand become. I ask all young New Zealanders to welcome and get to know the people in our community. What you do makes all the difference.
Simply accepting new New Zealanders into our country with open arms can contribute to their resettlement in a completely foreign place and shape their integration process and sense of self-worth. Pause a moment in what were once my shoes. How would you want to be treated?
What will you do to help your community? What will you do to help make the world a better place? What role will you play?
We don’t have to wait until we’re older. We can all do something now. Empowered youths transform societies and we can all be champions of change.
Why is it important to have organisations such as empower which support people from refugee backgrounds?
When it comes to the needs of children and young people, education is paramount. However, the reality for refugee children globally is that only 1 out of 2 get primary education. No child should have to pay the cost by missing out on schooling. Yet we see whole generations of refugee children from areas of conflict that have to leave their homes and schools, and other children on the move unable to secure an education. Education is every child’s basic human right. When these young people arrive in New Zealand, we need to provide them with a nurturing environment for the full realisation of their rights and capabilities.
Higher education serves as a powerful driver for change, by maintaining their hopes for the future, fosters inclusion and non-discrimination and acts as a catalyst for the recovery and rebuilding of post-conflict countries.
I believe education is pivotal to changing the future for child refugees and migrants; there is no future unless children learn today, and receive an education that gives them the tools and skills to be empowered to make positive change. Education empowers not only the individual, but their family, and entire community.
My charity, Empower provides a mentoring and support initiative to try to address the underrepresentation of refugees in higher education in New Zealand. We are the only organisation dedicated to refugee youth which focuses on assisting and supporting individuals with both their professional and personal development.
If we empower, educate, and enable refugee youth in New Zealand through education, leadership, and capacity-building to pursue meaningful paths of their choice then they will be empowered to contribute to Aotearoa socially, economically, and environmentally.
It’s not hard to see why Rez was named young New Zealander of the Year. She delivers a great message for all young people wanting to create positive change. “We are all in a position to make a difference to the world we live in – how big or small that may be. Only you can decide that. Champions are people prepared to face difficulty…They’re defined by passion, confidence and the strength from within. We can all be champions but our task it to discover and unlock our greatness.”
We hear a lot about conflict; scenes of war flood television, computer and smartphone screens almost as quickly as they disappear from our minds and thoughts. We see cities destroyed by bombs and guns, we see millions of displaced people in refugee camps and we see terrible suffering. We might not be personally affected by war and unrest overseas, but we will always feel relief when the conflicts come to an end.
But what happens next, after a conflict has ended and left a decimated society to rebuild itself? This is where peacekeepers come in. Contrary to common knowledge, the role of peacekeepers is not to enforce peace, but to facilitate it after an agreement has been reached. Their presence is to demonstrate ongoing stability, as opposed to a protection from violence. Many criticise peacekeepers for being ineffective; early peacekeeping missions have demonstrated the potential pitfalls of installing non-combat personnel in what may be a fractured, unstable and frightened society which is clinging desperately to a tentatively-held peace. The reality is that peacekeeping is a new concept, one which reflects new values which the world strives to share – peace and cooperation, while still recognising and reflecting individual states’ sovereignty and right to self-govern.
Above all, peacekeepers are human beings; they work in dangerous and frightening conditions at considerable risk to their own personal safety, all in furtherance of an ideal of world peace. Since the end of World War II 3,700 peacekeepers have lost their lives while serving. They are an example of how governments can cooperate and work together and can signify commitment to upholding ongoing peace and stability. They are not a foreign invasion seeking to dominate a tentative, fledgling state; they are there to facilitate and strengthen law and order.
The International Day of UN Peacekeepers reminds us of those who had lost their lives facilitating peace and reminds us of 100,000 who serve across the world today. The aim is to prompt discussion around the roles of peacekeepers, honour the one million peacekeepers who have served since World War II, and to look to the future at how peacekeeping can be improved. Peacekeepers signify a commitment to peace which is worth upholding and worth striving to improve.
I didn’t even know World Freedom of Press Day was a thing. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe everyone else knew it about it. Either way, now that I do know about it, here’s why it’s important.
The 3rd of May, according to UNESCO, is a date which “celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.”
In other words, today is a day in which we remember how valuable it is to have a press that is free from outside intervention and are capable of reporting on the stories that matter to New Zealanders.
As a working journalist, albeit one that is often found writing about cats up trees or reporting on something a Kardashian said, I still understand the vital importance of a free press.
If a story needs telling – even if it damages those in positions of power – I can tell it.
In some countries around the world, journalists aren’t so lucky.
According to Reporters Without Borders, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to freedom of information and of the press, more than a third of the world’s people live in countries where there is no press freedom.
Unsurprisingly, a number of the countries at the bottom of the press freedom scale are those with the most repressive, dictatorial governments – North Korea and Turkmenistan, for example.
Conversely, and thankfully, New Zealand was ranked in the top 5 in 2016, alongside Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.
What this means is that in countries without a free press, citizens are shut out from the conversations that really matter. In my opinion, while much of the media serves to entertain or to inform, the real importance of journalism is holding power to account.
Genuine political discourse is important to allow people to make informed decisions and understand their place in society.
So, sure, I didn’t know that May 3rd was World Freedom of Press Day before sitting down to write this piece. But now I do – and I know that it’s something that deserves acknowledgement.
Because in New Zealand, we’re fortunate enough to have a free and functioning press– but so many millions of people aren’t.
Millions of people are left without a voice and the chance for abuses of power to be checked and corrected.
Without a free press, what hope do we have for fair governance and a working democracy?
Lest we forget – words etched into the minds of every kiwi, from their first ANZAC day, until their last. This year marks the 102nd ANZAC Day. A day where communities across Australia and New Zealand come together to remember those who have served not only in World War One, but in every conflict since. It is a day in which we as a country stand in unity, where we can all reflect on the past regardless of how different our backgrounds may be. Over the past century ANZAC Day has become a day of New Zealand patriotism, and on this day thousands of Kiwis will attend services all across the country to not only show their respect, but to teach the next generation about our nation’s history.
The ANZACs were a force of young men fighting for what they believed in. In the wake of a range of questionable strategic decisions, 18,000 young men left our shores with 3,000 never returning. These were men sent to the front lines with little training and no experience, unprepared for the warzone ahead. Those who survived the Gallipoli offensive returned scarred, physically and mentally, just grateful to be alive. There was no glory to be found in Gallipoli. 44,000 allied men died trying to follow what they were told was the road to freedom and 87,000 Ottoman soldiers died defending their homeland from foreign invaders. Gallipoli bore no winners yet the effects of those fateful 8 months are still felt today. On the 25th of April, we do not gather to celebrate the actions of the ANZACs yet instead commemorate their lives and remember the legacy they left behind.
The ANZAC spirit is one of endurance, courage and determination. Faced with adversity, thousands of young kiwis rose to the occasion, presented with challenges they battled through. The ANZAC spirit is embodied by our nature as a population to work hard for what we believe in. Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We will forever stand on the shoulders of the ANZACs.
“Looking at the earth from afar you realise it is too small for conflict and just big enough for cooperation.” – Yuri Gagarin.
As the early rays of sunlight slowly bled across the horizon, Yuri Gagarin clambered into the spherical capsule spanning 2.3m in diameter1 – the Vostok 1. He would call this home for the next 108 minutes1. At 6:07 UTC, April 12, 1961, the cosmonaut launched into orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome launchpad. He made one orbit around the Earth at an altitude of 327km above sea level. After 89 minutes in orbit at speeds of 27,400km/hr2, the spacecraft corrected its orientation for re-entry. As the one-man vehicle hurtled toward the ground, Yuri experienced forces 8 times that of gravity, but remained conscious enough to eject 7km3 above ground. As Vostok 1 made fiery contact with the ground, Yuri gently cascaded and landed in a dazed, safe and in a state near the town of Engels; thus, marking the first human space flight.
International Day of Human Space Flight was declared 12 April by the General Assembly passed in the resolution A/RES/65/271 on April 7 20114. The resolution reads as follows: “[IDHSF aims] to celebrate each year at the international level the beginning of space era for mankind, reaffirming the important contribution of space science and technology in achieving sustainable development goals and increasing the well-being of States and peoples, as well as ensuring the realization of their aspiration to maintain outer space for peaceful purposes.”
Every year we commemorate the accomplishment born from the Cold War rivalry, and every year we remember how the Space Race brought unto civilisation the fastest growing technology witnessed in its time. We recognise these feats not for the conflict for which allowed this progression, but for the limitless possibilities mankind can achieve by transcending unnecessary dissension. Further, we seek to establish fundamental principles in the conquest to better understand our universe. Cornerstones which ensure that in our time, and those to come, space exploration is synonymous with cooperation, accord, and unison.
For if Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for mankind, then Yuri taught mankind how to leap.
This is the 2018 World Health Day theme. On 7 April, World Health Organisation calls upon states and individuals alike to strive towards this idea. There seems to be something distinctly modern about discussing health in terms of ‘universalness’. Modernity means the development of medicine, technology, transportation, communication. When innovation is peaking out at every corner, we begin to believe the tools at our finger tips are greater than any problem. No distance too great, no crisis too big.
Yet there is a danger in focusing too much on the visible and tangible realities we see in developed nations. These aren’t the realities experienced by all. And it’s ultimately what context we live in that determines the level of health achievability.
Yemen is a country so far off the spectrum of our daily lives that the average Kiwi has probably spared it little thought. It is a country that is dealing with a mammoth health crisis – a cholera outbreak literally unimaginable in the safety of New Zealand. 21 December 2017, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced the number of suspected cases had surpassed 1 million. In about a year, Yemen overtook the previous record held by Haiti (690,575 cases in the three years following the 2010 earthquake) and thus became the worst Cholera outbreak in recorded history.
The response by non-government organisations like the Red Cross have resulted in relatively high survival rates, with the death toll at approximately 0.2-0.3%. The success of medicine and organisation does not undermine the reality that this is a completely preventable disease. It is, in the words of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, a ‘medieval disease’, one that should be relegated to the history books. Cholera is transmitted by contaminated food or water, meaning any nation with decent sanitation standards will likely never see a case. According to a Red Cross statement last year, “more than 80% of the population” of Yemen lacked the basic necessities of clean water, food, or health care. In addition to this, the rainy season is due to hit in April, which WHO warns will inflame the cholera epidemic.
What tipped one of the already poorest Arab-nations into further suffering was the outbreak of war. Since 2015, civil war has engulfed Yemen with dangerously powerful outside players aggravating the chaos. The fighting is between a Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-allied Houthi rebels, but it’s ultimately civilians who are losing. The UN estimates 3 million people have been displaced from their homes, with 8 million being on the brink of famine. UNICEF recently asked for $350 million to feed the starving number. A tiny number compared to the $1 billion worth of weapons that the US plans to give Saudi Arabia, despite Amnesty International pointing to the “extensive evidence” that this arms flow from Saudi had “resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians.”
All of this is not to say that universal health coverage shouldn’t be the aim, as everyday steps are taken to move us closer to this end goal. However, in this pursuit we cannot isolate health from other factors – social, economic, political – that all play a role in shaping lives. In that sense, we shouldn’t take for granted the stability that allow us to live healthy lifestyles, or forget those who aren’t so lucky.
National President Bokyong Mun was invited to give a speech at the International Women’s Day lunch, hosted in Wellington on the 8 March 2018. Read below for the speech that she presented, and the challenge that she leaves us all!:
“International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us all to celebrate the improvements and great lengths that we have achieved all over the world in stride for gender equality and the empowerment of women. However it also serves as a reminder – a reminder of the challenges and issues that women still face everywhere they go.
But I want to ask, what are the different challenges that women face today? What does it really mean for women to be empowered, and what does this mean in the 2018 context of Aotearoa New Zealand? To me my biggest frustration is that the perspective and experiences of being a woman are often overlooked when considering women’s issues in New Zealand.
My parents immigrated from South Korea and I was lucky enough to be born on the North Shore in Auckland here in New Zealand. I however grew up in a small town called Balclutha, about an hour away from Dunedin surrounded by a farming community and a beautiful river for jumping into on summer days.
The reality is that our identity is not only made up of our gender, but also our ethnicity, cultural background, upbringing and experiences that we have had. Being a woman means something different to every single one of us.
Bokyong Mun (UN Youth National President) with President of the United Nations Association of NZ, Joy Dunseath
To me, women empowerment means much more than the need to bridge the gender pay gap, or the right for me to breastfeed in public, although these are all very important things. To me it means not facing discrimination from law firms because I don’t have blonde hair, as well as not having my worth judged on my looks to begin with. It means that I am able to talk to my mother freely in public in Korean without people telling us to go home, and not have people tell me that I am not beautiful because of the size of my eyes. It means people no longer expecting me to behave a certain way, just because that is how Asian women are portrayed to be in popular culture.
New Zealand is my home, however too often people forget how rich and diverse our multicultural country is. People assume that I didn’t feel pride when we won the Rugby World Cup in 2011, or that I didn’t cry because it was my neighbour’s homes that had been devastated by the Canterbury Earthquakes. To me, International Women’s Day is important because it gives me the chance to reflect on what it means to be me – a woman that makes up a part of the multicultural society that is Aotearoa New Zealand today.
Through my role in United Nations Youth, I have met hundreds of young New Zealanders, who all have a different, but equally valuable definition of what it means to be a woman. For many youth today, conflicts and confusion around our identity plays a big part in our daily lives. But it is through hearing these stories of my peers that I have also learnt not to be ashamed of my identity, to strive for my aspirations, and realise that it is the differences among us that make us stronger as a collective.”
We're always on the look out for passionate young New Zealanders to help do what we do even better.
Auckland Regional Council 2019 Nominations
Nominations are NOW OPEN to join the Auckland Regional Council for 2019. If you’ve enjoyed being part of our conferences, then now is your chance to step up your involvement in the organisation be part of the team that helps make those events come to life! The roles we have on offer are: Auckland President […]