To fight for young people, first listen to them

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To mark the 25th World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims the World Health Organization, The Government of Malta and YOURS convened a high-level road safety conference joined by the UN Road Safety Envoy Jean Todt and the Maltese Deputy Prime Minister Christopher Fearne.

The importance of youth engagement was a core theme of the conference as road traffic injury continues to be the leading killer of young people globally. FIA Foundation Campaigns and Media Manager Rebecca Ashton-Dziedzan joined the panel on meaningful youth engagement and made the following remarks:

To combat the leading killer of young people, include them in the policy making process

Before joining the FIA Foundation, I worked for the Guardian newspaper, covering politics and live news.

As you may be aware – we’ve had a turbulent few years in British politics. Whilst working on 3 UK general elections, the Brexit referendum and Trump’s ascension to President, I frequently met with policy makers, PR spinners, and those in the seat of power.

One thing that frequently struck me whilst covering these events is how engaging young people on these huge, future altering moments, was often an after-thought, an add-on for many politicians and decision-makers.

Anecdotally, I have heard political staffers claim that it’s not worth trying to reach the young people as they don’t bother to vote. Let’s ask ourselves - why don’t young people vote? Young people disengage because the political discourse often excludes them, does not represent their needs, or hear their voices.

When young people and policy makers become disconnected, this disconnect not only disempowers young people but it is also costing lives. Quite simply - without involving young people in the policy making process, how can they advocate for their specific needs?

Year after year, we are seeing that road traffic injury is the leading killer of young people. Treated as an issue of personal rather than political responsibility, it does not receive the same attention and investment that other public health issues do. And unfortunately, when it comes to poor policy decisions affecting young people, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Urban planning is not youth friendly. Rapid urbanisation and motorisation have created car dominated environments forcing young people inside to lead sedentary lives or to run the gauntlet trying to navigate streets not designed to protect them. It is a lose-lose situation, putting the health and development of young people at risk.

It is clear that the unique needs, and voices, of young people in many cities are being not being heard. Many emerging health issues for adolescents, including road traffic injury, continue to be neglected and lack of participation, lack of connection with policy makers continues to play a huge part in this.

In UNICEF’s child-friendly cities guide, it is not only access to safe and clean environments, to health and education that are outlined as fundamental human rights, but also civic participation. Participation is a human right, it’s what makes cities liveable, societies function and is not something that should discriminate by age.

It’s important that young people are encouraged to play active and engaging roles at all levels of government. With their communities, cities, national governments, and even at a supra-national level such as the United Nations. It’s equally important that all these different levels of democracy recognise their responsibility in opening their platforms to young people.

This is why through FIA Foundation’s This is my Street campaign we are calling for UN Summit on Adolescent Health that will put neglected youth issues and youth voices front and centre of the policy making process. From grassroots movements, to civil society and governments, we hope you will join us.

If we are going to tackle the biggest health risks for young people, we must empower them to be part of the process. Young people are not a “nice to have” or an “add on” to policy dialogues, they are an essential part of the fabric and future of society and therefore must be integral to these processes. If it’s for youth, it must involve youth.

They are the generation that will have to make the most sacrifices when it comes to mitigating climate change, tackling air pollution, and managing massive technological change. They are the key to achieving the SDGs. How do we ensure our future cities are inclusive and sustainable ones? We must invest now in policies and processes which include young people.

Young people currently make up 40% of the global population so it is critical we get this right,– or we risk failing future generations

Because road traffic injury is the leading killer of adolescents there is a huge opportunity for the road safety community to lead the way. In fact, it’s critical that we do so. By committing to working with young people to inform, consult, collaborate, and empower, it is possible to create policies that work for youth and save lives.