Hidden Barriers - Visible Impact

20 Apr 2019 Radio Helping Hand

The youth is often criticized for not being active. However, it is easier to criticize, than to make an actual difference. In reality, when a young person wants to organize even a small event, it is related to much more barriers, than it might seem on the surface. In May of this year, a non-governmental organization the Helping Hand held a conference Girls’ Involvement in Political Life supported by the World Connect, when high school student girls from all around Georgia shared their experience of activism and organizing clubs, discussions, debates, public lectures, trainings, cleanups and other events in their schools and communities. In this blog we will explore, what kind of hidden barriers might girls face, when organizing such events through what they have shared during the conference.
When a school student wants to organize an event at his/her school, he/she must first obtain the permission from the school administration. Even if school principle, or deputy principle and the form-master were allowing to conduct an event, there still was distrust in the teenagers’ leadership and management capacity. A training… A lecture… Advocacy- That’s teaching… That’s what only adults can do… The belief in the power and effectiveness of peer education is still not too strong in schools in Georgia. When activist girls would ask the school administration to help them spread information about their event, some teachers and principles would share this information with the rest of the students in dry forms, such as: “Your schoolmates are organizing something tomorrow. You can go, if you want to, I don’t know”. And we all know, how teacher’s words can both inspire and demotivate.
There were, however, cases of explicitly negative reactions from the school administrations towards student’s initiatives as well. Some schools had doubts regarding the fact that an NGO was supporting and helping girls to implement their ideas. NGO-s are still sometimes perceived as “propagators of wrong values” or ones being against the government, which also made schools’ leadership hesitant. Particular mistrust was also shown towards girls’ initiatives if they were related to women’s rights, gender, or reproductive health. These topics are still considered taboo by many in the public school system and not to be publicly discussed with teenagers. Also a concept of Feminism has negative meaning for the many, as they believe that feminism promotes female domination and supremecy over men.
Under conditions of distrust towards peer education among adults, educators, who are figures of authority in the school, it was challenging for the girls to motivate their peers to attend and participate in their events as well. If the teenagers would manage to conduct their activity during one of the classes, their classmates/schoolmates were more willing to come. However if the event was scheduled after the class, as was often the case, because the school administration often would not allow using class time for extracurricular activities, very few would express the interest and come. One also can understand the students not willing to attend additional event after the class. Many of Georgian high schoolers take private lessons in singing, dance, play a musical instrument or go to tutors to study school subjects after classes. Or they might simply feel tired after the school day.
Finally, girls discovered that it was much harder to reach out to the representatives of local government (for instance the members or staff from the city assembly or the Meyer’s office or the Meyer himself) and invite them to the discussion at school in Tbilisi, than outside of the capital. In the regions, especially in small communities, everybody knows everybody and close and personal connections between event organizing teens and the staff of the municipal government often exist, while in Tbilisi the population is much bigger, the municipal authorities, therefore, are not so close to the ordinary people. This is an asset for the youth in the regions to take advantage of and push for more youth oriented local programs and projects and increased youth involvement in decision-making.
Of course, we heard many success stories at the conference as well. Many school administrations and students were valuing and taking peer education seriously. Many conferences, meetings, trainings, public talks, debates, cleanups, discussions and other events were organized. Many schools were open to cooperation with the NGO-s. However, in this blog we wanted to demonstrate that all of that was possible through overcoming various barriers and a lot of persistence from the girls. Of those barriers and challenges that often remain invisible for an outside observer. However exactly overcoming these barriers over and over again makes them to gradually disappear. We need to realize the challenges the youth is facing, when taking an initiative in order to appreciate and thank them for their efforts. The more cleanups, trainings, conferences, debates, public talks, discussions, workshops will the young conduct, more decision-makers they will invite and the more questions they will pause to them, more will schools, teachers, parents, public servants and the society as a whole will get used to the idea that the youth can be not only our future, but also our present. More open will they become towards youth activism, volunteerism and engagement. Therefore all we need is to continue acting, continue moving and not remaining passive, as exactly this will create social demand for proactive and creative youth.
Esma Gumberidze
Radio My Voice Volunteer Journalist/Activist