Young Foreign Policy Advocate
What do you currently do in terms of foreign policy and advocacy?
I’m the UK rep to the global secretariat at Youth for Change, which is a youth-led project working to end gender-based violence, particularly FGM and CEFM (Child Early and Forced Marriage), across the UK, Tanzania and Bangladesh. I work with my counterparts in the other country teams to ensure that we are a streamlined project in our work on this. I am also the UK Youth Delegate to the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities for 2018, so I’ll be representing young people of the UK in conversations surrounding how we promote local and regional democracy, improve local and regional governance and strengthen authorities’ self-government.
You’ve worked with Youth for Change, Plan International and Girlguiding. How (and when) did you first get involved in advocacy?
My first stint with advocacy was when I was 16 working with Girlguiding’s national Advocate panel, which helps to direct the organization’s research and campaigning work. It was this initial opportunity to be part of something bigger - which young people often aren’t given the opportunity to do - that showed me we are able to make change within our communities, whether that’s from a local level all the way up to the international. Then, I moved on to Youth for Change, which is when I started to work with more of an international perspective. I think I was just really lucky in terms of getting into advocacy.
Why do you think it’s important that young women have a voice in foreign policy?
Wow – big question! For so long, women have been excluded from conversations where their voices need to be heard. And for young women, there is such a lack of agency sometimes to influence things that affect us, and that can leave you with such a lack of connection. I think that having young women in foreign policy helps to change the narrative and includes people who are often marginalized from these conversations. When we begin to do that, we begin to create policies that actually work for young women.
Obviously you do a lot in terms of activism and advocacy. How do you balance everything and do you feel it gets in the way of your university life?
People have to remind me that I’m at uni to do a degree because that often gets put to the side! But the main thing that allows me to keep going is having support networks around me. It’s also about building in mechanisms of self-care that work for me. I think a lot of the time the conversation around self-care is so romanticized. It’s always like “oh self-care! I’ll have a cute bath and then feel better!” But sometimes it’s about writing all of your self-doubts down, staring at them in black and white and coming to the decision, “I’m not going to think like that anymore”. So it’s active mechanisms of self-care that really work for me rather than things that look cute on Instagram. I love those things that are Snapchat-able but they hardly ever work for me.
Do you feel like your age has affected how you’ve been treated at all?
I feel like sometimes people do underestimate me. At this point I have three years’ worth of experience so when I walk into a room to tell people what I’m not happy about, I’m really going to say it, which I don’t think people always expect of me! My aim is always to leave a room with people knowing that every young person is capable of doing this.
But I think the culture within the International Development sector is shifting and people are starting to realize that there’s still a lot more to do to get more young people into the boardroom, and into decision-making spaces. What’s really empowering is that the board of trustees I’m on is all young people and it’s like “yes, this is it! This is what it should be like!” I guess trying to spread that message is just part of my mission now!
Do you have any advice for other young women who are potentially interested in advocacy?
I would definitely just say: know that you’re enough. I feel like if you know people will underestimate you, you underestimate yourself and don’t put yourself forward. You shouldn’t let other people’s doubt affect you. Know that you’re enough and that you don’t have to know everything, to be the best at what you do.
What do you want to do when you’re older? And do you think advocacy has opened you up to new opportunities?
Oh yeah, for sure! Before starting advocacy I’d never have been on the trajectory I’m on. I’m actually launching my own organization in June and I’m hoping that’ll be sufficiently established when I’m ready to go into full time work so I can run that! What I really want is for every young person to feel the way I do – that you can change the world around you.
That sounds really interesting! Can you tell me more about the organization you’re launching?
Talawa International will hopefully be launching later this year and will empower young people to use their skills to create change in their communities through webinars, YouTube videos and workshops. It’ll be a place to showcase that young people are doing amazing things, and to give other young people the tools to do these things too! It came from the fact that people always ask me how I got into advocacy and it’s just that somebody gave me the opportunity to learn and to grow, so I want other young people to have that chance.
Who is your feminist role model?
Wow that’s really difficult! I think I’m really lucky in that so many different women inspire me every day. The core of my inspiration is that I come from a long line of Caribbean women who are badasses -- who’ve always sought to travel the world, to influence the communities around them and they’re the women who inspire me to do what I do!