Katrina Lambert BEM, 19 years old (at the time of writing) and originally from Edinburgh, is an activist campaigning on gender equality, human rights and youth voice. [Since the time of interview Katrina has been recognised in the Queen Platinum Birthday Honours with a BEM for her work including Co Chair of the Back Youth Alliance] She is an #iwill ambassador, a trustee at Volunteering Matters, member of youth-led network Youth For Change and has been recognised by the Prime Minister for her work with a Points of Light award. Katrina has been active in promoting youth voice in Scotland (volunteering with organisations such as Young Scot and ProjectScotland) and is now based in London where she is studying Politics and International Relations at the London School of Economics. Continuing our series of interviews with youth voice champions, ‘YoungVoicesHeard’ heard about her journey and hopes for the future. We also asked what advice she would give to young people starting out and to older people listening.
What motivated you to first get into the world of youth participation, advocacy and social action? – “Ever since I was little there have always been two things that have frustrated me: injustice, and unsolved problems. I hated it when the wrong people got told off in class, or when problems couldn’t be resolved because ‘that’s the way things are’. When I was fifteen, I began to understand how these frustrations applied to my experience of gender inequality. All around me I could see the pressures and barriers facing girls and young women in everyday life. This is what encouraged me to take my first leap into the world of activism – I joined the Girlguiding British Youth Council Delegation as the Scottish representative, becoming the youngest on the panel. From then onwards, I have worked with several organisations to promote the voices of young people, and young women in particular. My activism has taken me all over the world from Brussels to New York to the UN in Geneva where I, and fellow human rights defender EJ Carroll, became the youngest ever to give evidence to the UN Committee Against Torture.
Who and what inspires you, and why? Who are role your models?
I’ve always been inspired by people who have dared to be different. Politicians who don’t just follow the mainstream such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [U.S. Congresswoman/New York] and historical figures such as Kitty Marion who relocated country aged fifteen, learnt a new language from scratch and went on to join the Suffragette movement. Closure to home my mum, who has always told me to be true to myself, to do what I’m passionate about and not to be afraid to break from the crowd.
I’m also constantly inspired by the young people I know and interact with on a daily basis. The passion and fire that young people have makes our generation unstoppable. We are speaking out and campaigning on everything from racial inequality and climate justice to the refugee crisis and human rights. Anyone who dismisses our generation as lazy and sensitive ‘snowflakes’, need only look at the avalanche of change that we’re creating in the world to be proved wrong.
What other youth voice projects do you admire?
The climate movement, particularly the school strikes and campaigns for climate education, is an absolutely brilliant example of youth voice in action. Young people are entirely in the lead and they are the ones calling the shots. In my experience, it is exactly that self-determination that all youth voice projects should strive towards.
What are your top five campaign/or priority issues for change?I believe that eradicating societal inequalities is one of the most important actions that needs to be taken, and while this encompasses a whole range of actions, these are five that I think are a good place to start:
1. An inclusive and intersectional approach to government policy. Legislation cannot just consider one type of person in society, it needs to address the needs of all people and take into account their race, gender, disability or any other aspect of their identity in order to be effective. For example, the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls (NACWG) have done some really ground-breaking work in Scotland on the importance of applying a gender lens to policy.
2. Improving the Personal Social Education (PSE) and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum so that it is both relevant and directed by what young people want to learn about (for example; information on consent, the climate emergency, political education)
3. Striving towards gender equality in the economy and workplace. This is essential, not only in giving women equal opportunities but also for economic purposes – gender parity in the economy is estimated to increase global GDP by over 20%.
4. Meaningful action on the climate emergency. The climate crisis is inextricably linked to inequality, for example, data indicates it is women and poorer societies that will bear the force of climate-related natural disasters.
5. Increased youth engagement at all levels of society; from government and businesses to charities and schools. Young people are experts in our experiences of inequality and are full of innovating solutions, so our voice at the table is essential.
What have you been doing during COVID and what is its impact on youth-voice? Much of my time is now spent online but working to amplifying young people’s voices remains on the agenda – if anything it is now more important than ever. Young people are tremendously affected by this crisis – our education, employment, mental health. Right now, decision-makers need to work very hard to truly listen to young people. I have been working with the #iwill campaign to ensure that young people’s concerns about COVID are addressed and we recently launched an open letter the Prime Minister calling for a dedicated youth press conference. In my trustee role at Volunteering Matters, I have also been looking at how young people can best be utilised as volunteers in the ‘new normal’ while health risks to older people remain.
However, I have also used some of this time to look after myself. Activism can be tiring and it’s often difficult to put yourself first when you’re busy trying to change the world around you. Lockdown has given me the opportunity to step back and check-in with myself.
What top tips would you give to other young campaigners or changemakers to get their message and across and achieve their goals for change and social action?
1. The most important thing is to find something that you’re passionate about. Whether that’s something local that you want to change or a big societal inequality that you want to tackle, make sure that whatever you do, you really care about it.
2. Find yourself a network of people to support you. I found amazing activist friends through groups that I joined (such as in Girlguiding) and online who are still such a support today. You can’t change the world alone, so find some people who want to change it with you!
3. Take risks. I often feel really out of my depth and unsure about whether or not I’m good enough. But every time you start to feel that way, or that little voice pipes up saying ‘you can’t do it’, push through and go for it anyway! I wouldn’t have done any of the things I’ve done today if I hadn’t done some things that I was really scared of doing.
4. Finally, be yourself. There will always be pressures to do things the ‘right way’ – whether that’s your peers, your school or the media. But I can promise you, if you stay true to yourself you will have the time of your life.
What top tips would you give older people and decision-makers to be more effective at listening/responding/doing/working with and for Young People?
- 1. Listen. Listen. Listen. If you want to engage young people, you need to give them the space to talk and to actually listen to what is being said. This doesn’t mean that every word that a young person breathes deserves an automatic standing ovation. What it does mean is that when young people speak up and contribute to a discussion their ideas should be of no less value simply because they came from the youngest person in the room.
2. Offer your expertise. Navigating the world of advocacy as a young person can sometimes be daunting, so don’t underestimate the power that your support can have. Whether that is providing contacts in your own networks, physical resources and toolkits, or even an encouraging message over Twitter— all are ways that you can genuinely support young people in their activities and help amplify their voices further.
What national change would you most like to see that would increase youth-voice and participation in society? Politicians need to speak to and directly address young people. Existing channels of youth engagement must be strengthened and diversified and new channels must be created. Youth voice cannot sit in one government department and instead needs to become a cross-government priority.
No matter how small you are, or no matter how small you may feel, you are never too small to make a difference. Never underestimate your power”