Many young people in today’s Europe live in situations where they experience exclusion, discrimination and violence. This is not only a youth issue, as it often affects young people during their youth and in their adult life, their environment (family, schools, communities, social networks, etc.), their intergenerational relations and the way society in general relates to young people. In their transition to adulthood, young people experience situations of socio-economic vulnerability and other forms of fragility in their place in society. When this multi-dimensional vulnerability is accompanied by exclusion, discrimination and violence, when young people do not have access to their human rights, when they experience poverty of opportunities and means, then they experience a serious disadvantage, which youth work, local and regional authorities and youth policy have the duty to tackle.
Youth workers and youth organisations are often at the forefront of projects designed to provide alternative non-formal education and leisure time activities, counter discrimination and exclusion of young people, promote participation and citizenship, often with the aim of easing social tensions. In the situations in which young people experience disadvantage, youth work has an important role:
§ when young people lack confidence and self-esteem because they have often experienced failure or rejection (in school, in society, in the labour market, etc), youth work can offer them opportunities to do something they feel proud of and to experience success, thereby acting as a counter point to their negative experiences;
§ when young people lack opportunities for being responsible and therefore also act irresponsibly, youth work provides them with opportunities to be responsible for something (a project, other young people, their communities, etc), gaining ownership and pride in their own potential contributions to community and society;
§ when young people lack space and resources to express themselves so that when they claim such space are stigmatised as violent and rowdy, youth work can provide safe and constructive spaces for young people to engage in non-intimidating ways with issues and concerns of their interest and to express themselves in non-threatening ways on them;
§ when young people are marginalised from mainstream participation (political, economic, cultural), youth work can them to develop their understanding of their rights and responsibilities as citizens through political, social and cultural activities;
§ when young people are sceptical of and intimidated by the idea of engaging and cooperating with policy actors because the measures implemented by such often do not lead to positive change in their situations, youth work can help young people overcome their ‘passive-aggressive’ attitudes to cooperation with policy actors by providing platforms for ‘confidence building measures’ and partnership building.
Local and regional authorities, as well as other governmental agencies and institutions working at the local level, also have a significant role to play when it comes to ensuring young people’s access to their social human rights. In many places in Europe, ensuring access to social rights comes under the remit of local and/or regional authorities and other governmental agencies whose responsibilities have been devolved from central government to the local level. Very often, youth workers and local and regional authorities have complementary roles in their work on access to social rights for and with young people.
The Enter! project of the Council of Europe
From the perspective of the Council of Europe, social cohesion is firmly based on human rights (as codified in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Revised European Social Charter), as well as an acceptance of shared responsibility for the welfare of all members of society, especially those who are at risk of poverty or exclusion. In line with this, the youth policy of the Council of Europe aims at “providing young people with equal opportunities and experience which enable them to develop knowledge, skills and competencies to play a full part in all aspects of society”.
In order to respond to situations of violence, exclusion and discrimination which affect more and more young people in Europe, the youth sector of the Council of Europe has developed since 2009 the Enter! project. The project promotes access to social rights for young people, in particular of those exposed to social exclusion, discrimination and violence. The objectives of the Enter! project for 2012 – 2014 are:
§ To address situations social exclusion, discrimination and violence affecting young people living through non-formal education and youth work projects;
§ To develop the competences of youth workers to initiate, support and evaluate projects for and with young people as a tool for youth empowerment and youth participation for access to social rights;
§ To develop conceptual, educational and practical means of translating access to social rights for young people into the realities of youth work and policy-making;
§ To advocate for the access of young people to social rights, particularly by developing partnerships between civil society actors, young people and policy-makers, at local, national and European levels;
§ To consolidate the results of the first three years of the Enter! project (2009 – 2012), particularly in the areas of youth policy, non-formal education and recognition of youth work.
The Enter! project includes initiatives run in partnership by the Youth Department and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. An advisory group, including researchers, representatives of local/regional authorities, the statutory bodies of the youth sector, and the European Youth Forum will support the whole project.