They come from different countries and regions of the globe and have distinct experiences that have shaped their young lives. But Irfaan, Aiki, Soufiane, Dejana, Maselina, Allán and Aizat all share the same dream: to build a world in which all human beings are equal.
From South Africa to Japan, from Morocco to Serbia, from Samoa to Mexico and Kyrgyzstan, the seven are young human rights educators who work in their communities to inspire young people to take action and promote human rights.
They are the protagonists of a documentary called “Changemakers: stories of young human rights educators,” which was released to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Co-produced by UN Human Rights, Amnesty International and Soka Gakkai International, the film pays tribute to young educators who empower other young people to advocate for equality, respect, and dignity for all.
“Human rights education has the power to bring real change and help us identify solutions to today’s challenges which are human rights-based,” said Elena Ippoliti, coordinator of Human Rights Education and Training at UN Human Rights.
“These young champions are an inspiring example of how young people can lead and nurture among their peers a culture of human rights to ensure no one is left behind.”
Empowering young people
Irfaan Mangera grew up in post-apartheid South Africa, an experience that made him aware that the fight to end injustice is not over. While the political system that institutionalized the racial segregation no longer exists, its legacy lives on in the form of racism, classism and social-economic exclusion, he said.
“The triple threat to South Africa’s future today is unemployment, poverty and inequality, and these are the results of the huge legacy of apartheid that excluded people,” said Irfaan, a community activist from the township of Lenasia, south of Johannesburg.
Irfaan, a member of the Indian South African community, spearheaded the creation of the National Youth Coalition to build a space for young people to fight racism and bring systemic change.
“Human rights education gives us a framework to empower young people to understand their rights and to protect and promote them so we can achieve the goal of equality,” he said.
Aiki Matsukura combats sexual exploitation of children, a taboo subject in Japan. Aiki provides support to survivors of sexual exploitation and raises awareness through campaigns using manga and videos, and through talks at schools and companies.
“When your human rights have been violated you lose the power and the strength you have. My job is to help young people bring that strength and worth back that they already have within them,” said Aiki.
“For me human rights education is to encourage one another, specially to encourage someone to believe in their own potential and worth.”
Liberation of speech
Soufiane Hennani, an activist for gender equality and gender diversity from Rabat, is the creator of a popular youth-oriented podcast called Machi Rojola that challenges unequal gender roles and promotes positive masculinities in Morocco.
Soufiane, a laureate of the Arab Foundation for Freedom and Equality’s social change program, said the podcast is a space of liberation of speech, where guests can talk about issues such as diversity, acceptance and human rights.
“You have to create an environment for young people to express themselves because these young people are the adults of tomorrow. Being part of a network of young people who do human rights education that promote human rights is an opportunity and a hope,” he said.
For Dejana Stošić from Belgrade speaking out is also a form of liberation.
Dejana, who works with young women to fight gender-based violence and sexual violence, created in 2021 a twitter hashtag called #NisamPrijavila (#IdidntReport), where she explained why she did not report a case of sexual violence. In just three days, more than 21,000 women across Serbia used the hashtag to tell their stories about the violence they survived but never reported.
“One of the hardest things in life is to be a girl and have a voice because everybody wants to shush you,” said Dejana, co-founder of SOS Girls Corner project, which won a With and for Girls award for best project for girls.
“I encourage girls to believe that they are worthy and capable of doing whatever they want and to stand up and use their voice to change the system we live in and to be equal to everyone.”
Maselina Iuta, an activist for the rights of persons with disabilities, remembers vividly the barriers she faced as a deaf school girl in a rural village in Samoa. That difficult experience, however, helped her find her mission in life.
“Where I was growing up there were no schools with sign language, so I did not understand what my teacher was saying and I fell behind. I don’t want future deaf children to go through what I went through,” she said.
Maselina is a founding member of the Deaf Association of Samoa, an organization led by deaf and hearing-impaired persons that advocates for the development of inclusive opportunities, policies and legislation for deaf and hearing-impaired people in Samoa.
“Many people in the deaf community don’t know they also have rights to education, to work and to experience respect, so I work to help them understand they do have equal rights,” said Maselina, who is now attending university in Fiji.
Guided by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, she works with local and national stakeholders to address barriers for deaf people.
“Many people in the non-deaf community think that because we don’t talk we don’t know or we don’t feel or we don’t have dreams,” she said.
Equality for all
For Allán Sánchez Osorio, an activist for the rights of children and young people in situations of vulnerability, awareness of one’s rights has the power to prevent human rights abuses.
“Unfortunately, not many people globally know their rights and that lack of knowledge can lead many to suffer human rights violations,” said Allán, founder of Fundación Efecto Valores, an NGO that promotes human rights education for children without parental care and who live in areas with high rates of violence.
“Human rights education can prevent human rights violations and also point to mechanisms for people to turn to in case of violations.”
From Kyrgyzstan, Aizat Ruslanova implements educational projects for teenagers to promote women’s rights to address gender-based violence against women.
Aizat, who is the executive director of the regional youth organisation IDEA Central Asia, said finding the right language to talk about human rights is a challenge. Words like human rights, gender equality or feminism can be perceived negatively in Kyrgyzstan because they are new, she said, so she also uses art to communicate messages about women’s rights.
“I am proud to be a human rights educator because we give young people a very cool tool to change their lives and develop their country.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).