WHAT WE WANT!

December 1, 2014

Joely Mitchell, Rachael Ward

The Banyule Youth Summit

“My name is Jessica and my nickname is Jesse, with an –e, not an –ie like most girls. You can blame my mum for that, she did this to teach me how important it is to overcome gender standards.”

Young but not naïve, these girls understand the reality of being a female. Are they okay with it? No, and they fully intend to do something about it.

100 teenagers. 19 round tables. 14 topics of discussion. Free lunch. Welcome to the Banyule Youth Summit.

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On the 14th of October, teenagers from all corners of Banyule attended the Youth Summit to talk about the issues important to them and practical ways for the Council to address them. Gender inequality was just one of the issues tackled at the Summit.

“At my school, when a girl yawned it was joked that she wanted oral sex,” another girl said.

These girls believe that they are oppressed on a daily basis for being female, particularly in the workforce. “Being told that I’m only allowed to work as a cashier instead of cooking out the back because I’m a female is totally unfair,” one said.

Being called ‘sweetie’, being catcalled or being treated differently because you’re not wearing make up are other forms of discrimination that girls have become familiar with from early ages.

Mayor Craig Langdon said the Banyule Council prided itself on “advocating for people,” including young people who live in the Banyule area.

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The day started with a panel of experts, including writer Amy Gray, Horace Wansborough from YSAS, Hayden Jones from Austin Health, Nada Aldobasic from AIME, Lisa Said from Banyule Youth Services and George Giulliani from eFocus.

Students then participated in round-table discussions, worked on solutions to issues and barriers they face every day and presented them to local dignitaries.

Two groups at the Summit discussed the negative impacts of gender equality, and suggested the Council develop a ‘gender flip’ video to show how women experience stereotypes in their every day lives with testimonials from young women from the area. They also recommended educating students on their rights and holding public forums to resolve issues such as those between students and parents.

Jenny Macklin, MP for Jagajaga, was one of the parliamentary guests in attendance. “As a feminist myself, it’s fantastic to see these young women being so loud and proud,” she said.

The group who talked about social equality highlighted the effects of racial and sexual discrimination and socio-economic tensions. They suggested increasing educational programs to primary school aged children and “connecting” public and private schools by streamlining similar classes such as sport.

“It takes time to accept your cultural identity, so to be discriminated against from a young age because of your race can be really damaging,” one girl said.

The employment and education group would like to see more information about gap years distributed to secondary school students, and the development of a register connecting local businesses with young people looking for employment and a website with information about rights and employment advice.

The young people worry that their education isn’t preparing them with life skills that will be relevant to them once they have graduated from high school.

“Algebra will help us pass our exams but what good will it do in our future? Teach us about bills and mortgages and superannuation, we want to know what it takes to be an adult,” one boy said.

The group working on life skills development in secondary schools recommended implementing a practical life skills program in schools and asked the Banyule Council to put together a package of information about independent living skills to be given to students when they leave secondary school.

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Many students are used to “feeling unsafe walking places at night,” so two discussions were devoted to addressing safety concerns. They suggested improving lighting on residential streets, fixing footpaths, increasing education about how to get out of a dangerous situation and self-defense skills.

One group discussed youth leadership, which they believe could be fostered by an Australian African Banyule Young Woman’s advisory group who could provide leadership development, community education, fundraising, education and other opportunities.

One in four young Australians will experience mental health issues, so the group working on mental health and drugs recommended increasing education through interactive workshops run by schools and Youth Services from engaging and relatable speakers who want to “educate students, stimulate discussion and reduce stigma”.

The group that discussed heath and self esteem highlighted the impact of social media on young people’s self esteem, so suggested students from the area connecting with health professionals to create a healthy image campaign and organize events to discuss mental and physical health issues.

Cr Langdon said that the Council doesn’t just want to assume what young people want. “We’ll do our best to listen and come back next year with our report card,” he said. And if the Council doesn’t look into these recommendations, they’ll have 100 local young leaders to answer to.

 – Rachael Ward and Joely Mitchell

– Photos by Sean Porter

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