Meet the 16 x 16: young people defending human rights and advancing SDG16!

This year, the theme of the United Nations’ Human Rights Day is “Youth Standing up for Human Rights.”

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Elisha and other young leaders address the audience at the Equator Prize Ceremony in New York in September 2019. © UNDP Equator Prize Initiative/Mike Arrison

In 2019, youth across the world mobilized at an unprecedented scale to challenge decisions affecting their lives and the future of the planet. From social media platforms to the streets, from informal to formal channels, they have embodied the world’s best hope and led social movements demanding civic space, human rights, accountability and climate justice.

Tech engineers Alex Austria and Keisha Mayuga developed LawKo. The AI-based chatbot promotes legal literacy about human rights and laws in the Philippines through Facebook messenger. LawKo is one of over 140 social enterprises across Asia and the Pacific launched with support from UNDP Youth Co:lab and Citi.

Young people are more connected than ever before, but also face widening inequality gaps and new forms of threats. In 2018, murder rates among human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists rose, unemployment rates among youth remained high, and youth are still underrepresented in formal political institutions and often excluded from decision-making.

Despite these challenges, young people are leading the way to peaceful, just and inclusive societies by overcoming obstacles and inspiring others to take action for human rights and sustainable development.

In recognition of young people as positive agents of change, UNDP launched the 16 x 16 Initiative in 2019. The initiative spotlights and accompanies 16 young leaders who bring to the forefront the major issues in their communities, countries, and those that affect us all: the health and wellbeing of our planet, the prosperity of our societies, and the need to put people first in development.

This Human Rights Day, take a few minutes to get to know some of the 16 x 16 participants and why they stand up for human rights:

Dalia Francheska Marquez Anez, Venezuela

“I support human rights by bringing hope to the most fragile hearts through education; creating a culture of resilience in the face of hostility; inspiring other young people to be agents of change; and fostering respect, tolerance and humanity that can lead us to peace.”

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© Michael Pardo Garzón

Dalia is the President of Juventud Unida en Acción (Youth United in Action) in Venezuela. The organization supports youth skills by convening workshops on human rights, peacebuilding, entrepreneurship, leadership and other areas to build resilience.

She is a lawyer specializing in Family Law.

Elisha Bano, Fiji

“It is our view, as the youth of today, that nature needs a seat at the table. If not now, when? If not us, who? We have inherited the devastations of a climate crisis. We don’t have more time. We need collective action. We need to be bold. There is no planet B. Mother nature needs a seat at the table.”

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Elisha and other young leaders address the audience at the Equator Prize Ceremony in New York in September 2019. © UNDP Equator Prize Initiative/Mike Arrison

Elisha is the Founder and Coordinator of Act It Network in Fiji, which looks at empowering youth through the use of creative arts to address social issues in communities. She is currently completing her Master of Arts in Diplomacy and International Affairs. Elisha was the first Fijian to receive the Queens Young Leader Award in 2015 and was the Pacific regional finalist for the Commonwealth Youth Worker award in 2016.

Neville Charlton, Jamaica

“Let us raise our voice. Let us take action. Let us use our rights to stand up for the rights of others. Everyone should be treated equally, it doesn’t matter your age, religion, political affiliation, or background, let’s respect each other and respect each other’s human rights.”

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Neville addresses youth at a talk on effective leadership and human rights. © Youth Inspiring Positive Change

Neville is the founder and chairman of Youth Inspiring Positive Change. The organization provides trainings and safe spaces for young Jamaicans to learn and explore unique skills to solve social issues such as urban violence. Neville also serves as the chief of the Jamaica Hurdles Crew, where hundreds of youth volunteer in sports at Jamaica’s Major track and field events.

Arnaldo Rene Díaz, Honduras

Rene is the Founder of Helping Honduras and co-Founder of the Youth Network of Jutiapa. He experienced gang violence growing up and now works directly with young people in high-risk communities, both in urban and rural areas.

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© Arnaldo Rene Díaz

Through these organizations, young people volunteer to tackle social problems that affect civic peace, health and climate in northern Honduras. The organizations focus on raising the voices of young people to promote respect for human rights, gender equality, environment and for communities free of violence.

Alice Ameyovi Goza, Togo

“Our work today, more than ever, is to awaken the consciousness of our fellow human beings (girls and men) about development issues, participation at all levels through civic engagement and the defence of their rights and those of their communities.”

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Alice GOZA talks about women’s leadership and empowerment on RTI2 TV in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. © Abidjan Ivory Coast, RTI2 TV

Alice is the founder and chairperson of the International Association of Women and Young Leaders which promotes women’s leadership and engages youth on topics that affect their human rights such as democracy, governance, and peace. women’s leadership and engages youth on topics that affect their human rights such as democracy, governance, and peace.

Charles Kajoloweka, Malawi

“Young people are no longer sitting back, they are moving from the margins toward the centre of Malawian political life.”

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© YAS media & Communications team

Charles is a human rights activist, founder and executive director of Youth and Society (YAS), a human rights and governance watchdog in Malawi.

The 32-year-old is a prominent anti-corruption campaigner in Malawi and is currently pursuing six high-profile cases in court. Charles was named “Malawi’s 2017 Personality of the Year” for this role.

Wevyn Muganda, Kenya

“The power does belong to the people and there is no better way to prove this than to educate and organize communities towards demanding accountability and rights. One day, we will live in a world where everyone is free, but until then I will continue to advocate for the rights of all people while working to achieve a peaceful, just and inclusive society.”

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Wevyn Muganda leading over 600 women during a protest in support of the survivors of gender-based violence and femicide in Kenya, Mombasa on International Women Day on 8 March 2019. © Sharon Kioko

Wevyn is the Programme Coordinator for HAKI Africa, a national human rights organization in Kenya. Her work focuses on increasing access to justice, empowering communities, particularly youth and women, and preventing violent extremism through policy development and community engagement. She writes and shares counter narratives to violent extremism in her blog, Beyond The Lines. She recently started a film project — ‘Kauli Zetu Mtaani’ –which seeks to provide a platform for unheard voices and address various social issues facing youth. In addition to this, she volunteers with Digital Grassroots, a youth initiative to increase digital citizenship in local communities.

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