Aotearoa Youth Declaration is UN Youth’s flagship civics education conference. The conference aims to equip participating youth from all across Aotearoa with a deeper understanding of their place within their community and the ways they can actively contribute to it. Participants are guided by facilitators in small groups (ropū groups), each centred around a different policy area.
Over four days, they participate in workshops, visit various businesses and organisations, and hear from industry experts to further engage with their chosen topic. Participants then develop policy solutions on the issues and areas most important to them. These are brought together in the Youth Declaration – this is a document that represents the youth voice.
More broadly, Aotearoa Youth Declaration is also about introducing young people to new experiences, new people and new opportunities. The event is not just for enthusiastic debaters or youth council members, but rather is for all young people from every corner of society. The conference helps participants find the issues they are passionate about, and shows them how they can express that passion through advocacy, volunteering or general community involvement. It is important to empower young New Zealanders to become conscientious citizens, aware of the influence their voice has upon the country. By challenging participants to tackle Aotearoa’s biggest social, economic, and cultural issues, the conference provides young New Zealanders with the motivation to create positive change.
To increase rangatahi representation we introduced the Regional Hui programme. These are small-scale Youth Dec events in different regions. We ran our first one in Kaitaia in early February thanks to the support of Youth Innovations. Students discussed the biggest challenges and issues they see in our society and their community and created solutions to them. This information was brought to the conference for participants to engage with.
Role of the Youth Declaration and the Conference
As a culmination of the opinions, ideas and passions of young New Zealanders, the Youth Declaration is sent to Members of Parliament, local government bodies, NGOs, businesses, sponsors and other decision makers.
In 2018, the conference focused on empowering rangatahi to be active citizens in their communities by giving them the tools and confidence to do so. Participants not only explored the challenges Aotearoa faces and create solutions, they also gained new understandings of what it means to be a young person in Aotearoa. Workshops explored identity, privilege, oppression, civic processes and tikanga principles.
By using the Declaration as a tool, young New Zealanders are shown how to engage with their elected representatives, make submissions and foster change in their communities.