Inaam Barkatoolah, aged 18, from London, is an active campaigner NS advocate on ‘human rights and access to justice for all’. She is a champion of youth voice and participation and since 2021, has been an active volunteer member of the Government’s Youth Policy Develop Group, a joint youth engagement initiative coordinated by ShoutOutUK which consults young people in England on policy proposals through roundtables. She is currently a Solicitor Apprentice specialising in human rights law.
Inaam talks to Young Voices Heard about her #’youthvoice journey, and the experience of working with the YPDG, as it approaches the end of its term in March 2023. You can read more about the work of the YPDG here
Q1 Can you tell me a bit more about your ‘youthvoice journey – what other groups you’ve work on?
My youth voice journey began when I initiated a campaign at my previous school challenging an outdated clause of our dress code that had an unintentional yet nonetheless adverse effect on our school community. I assembled a union of students, drafted a persuasive letter, created a petition, and presented our case to members of senior staff. I engaged in negotiations and found the demands of thinking on my feet absolutely electrifying. It was my first taste of advocacy and exceptionally thrilling at that. Our campaign was successful, owing to the dedication of our school community, the union members, and our incredible members of senior staff, who took the time to consider and enact our propositions for reform.
The immense satisfaction of empowering my peers brought on the realisation that I did not want to stop there. I knew there was more to be done and I knew there was more I could do. Thus my search for youth voice opportunities began!
Fast forward two years later, and I have volunteered with the Youth Policy Development Group, The Mix, The ONE Campaign, UK-German Connection, UN Women, and Care4Calais. I now work as a Solicitor Apprentice specialising in human rights law, and I am currently establishing the ‘Young Humanitarians’ Association’.
Q2 Why did you apply to be a member of the YPDG? Has it lived up to your expectations?
I was astounded upon reading about what the Youth Policy Development would be involved in. I was especially passionate about the world of politics at the time – the opportunity to present policy briefs and debate them with Ministers seemed too good to be true!
It’s exceeded my expectations in every way possible. I’m immensely grateful to the members of Shout Out UK, notably Spencer Caminsky, Lucie Spicer and Oliver Blewett, for training us in such an engaging way. Not once did I ever feel like I could not voice my ideas or ask a question.
My heart goes out to every single Youth Policy Development Group member, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have worked with such incredible and compassionate minds whom I consider dear friends.
Q3 Why do you think the schemes like the YPDG are important?
The Youth Policy Development Group is not only one of the only avenues where young people can communicate face-to-face with, and directly challenge government representatives, but it also equips its members with skills for life. Young members of society are entrusted with the weight of the world on their shoulders, with the responsibility of making things right. We have the compassion, the drive and the motivation, but we require the skills, support and those who are ready to listen to us. It’s not just policy-making; it’s problem-solving, planning, organisation, stakeholder management, presenting and debating. These skills are at the heart of the Youth Policy Development Group. Every young person should have the chance to acquire these.
Q4 Can you describe your “highlights” when you were involved in the Youth Policy Development Group?
I’m grateful to have been given the chance to chair the ‘United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Roundtable’. That was definitely a huge highlight for me as it was a topic I was especially passionate about.
Another highlight was when I challenged Government Representatives at the Sports Participation Roundtable. Our presentations indicated how sports participation could be widened, and the barriers, such as the cost of living crisis, that lay in the way. I asked: ‘Taking into account the cost of living crisis as well as the feedback we have provided you today, what is one viable recommendation we have provided that you will look to enact?’. The answer I received was that no promises could be made regarding which of our recommendations would be enacted. Although the response I received was not as definite as I hoped, it provided me with a realistic notion of the time frames in which change can be achieved. It is not a short process, but I remain confident that we can get there.
Q5 Do you feel young people is being heard enough in society/in parliament?
We have a long way to go with regard to young people being heard in society. Young people must be at the forefront of decision-making, with decisions made in the best interests of future generations. We need to see our ideas being incorporated into policies, initiatives and laws. If we are to be the ‘leaders of tomorrow’, we must be acknowledged and empowered today.
Q6 Thinking of when you started speaking up – what advice would you give to young people starting their youth voice and influence journey?
It can be hard beginning your youth voice journey; there’s a shortage of opportunities and you may feel like other people have infinite experience. You may feel like people aren’t taking you seriously. Do not let this discourage you. Do not give up on your journey.
Your voice is incredible! It’s unique, it’s never been heard before. Your perspective is different and that is the sheer beauty of it. You deserve to be heard.
Speak your mind and let your heart be your guide.