YMCAs play important role in building a Just World

Date: 17 May 2023

Fourth and final article in a YMCA Vision 2030 series explores a Just World and the role of YMCAs.

We understand the words when we talk about the four Pillars of Impact of YMCA Vision 2030 –  Community Wellbeing, Meaningful Work, Sustainable Planet and Just World. But do we know what they mean?

Researchers from the Geneva Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland, have collected and presented definitions and data, analysed trends of each Pillar, and shared those findings with the World YMCA. 

In this, the last of four articles, we explore the fourth Vision 2030 Pillar – Just World. Previous reports examined Community Wellbeing, Meaningful Work, and Sustainable Planet

Carolina Earle closely examined Just World and shared research and data collected from various sources.

What do we mean by a Just World?

For the World YMCA, “A Just World” encompasses the provision of justice, peace, equity, and human rights for all.

Expanding on the central notion of “Justice”, Carolina noted that it does not always translate the same way across languages. Specifically, she notes that conceptions of “Justice” (and its related concepts) can vary widely, for example, in different local contexts and when expressed in various languages and communities. 

“Being mindful and respectful to listen and learn about diverse understandings of different concepts in different local contexts is an important starting point for creating a peaceful, inclusive, and equitable world”, she said. A useful starting point, however, would be to conceive of justice “…as a guarantee of fairness and equality for all individuals”.

Beyond rights afforded to individuals, social justice envisions a fair society where everyone has equitable access to common goods, including healthcare, housing, and employment. Therefore, guarantees of dignity and respect are vital aims of human rights. Moreover, they can be upheld in a court of law.

Notable trends

Carolina noted many sobering trends in this space. Among them:

  • Digital Revolution: This can be characterised by the immense spread, speed, and disruption of change induced by today’s digital technologies. Digital connectivity can allow students to access positive aspects of the digital revolution, such as online education and empowering communities. And yet, women and marginalised communities are more likely to be cut off from such benefits. For example, 12 per cent fewer women than men are connected to the internet globally, and most live in “developing” countries.
  • Surveillance, Spyware, & Cybersecurity: Spyware technology has been shown to facilitate physical violence, Carolina said. “Even when it does not, being unregulated and open to abuse spyware technology creates a culture of fear [which itself] impacts freedom of expression.” More widespread expertise in this domain is needed to protect people from severe abuses. In 2021, it was estimated that 1 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs remained worldwide.
  • Online violence: Online is gendered, with 80 per cent of female politicians reporting psychological violence online. In particular, young people today are particularly susceptible to online abuse. Not only are one-third of Internet users under 18, but this group is also most vulnerable to online bullying and sexual exploitation. Furthermore, disinformation and misinformation continue to undermine democratic processes and can engender adverse health effects, amongst other effects. This is worrying when we note that 13% of 18-24-year-olds consider news on social media trustworthy compared to 8% across all age groups.
  • Discrimination & Racism: Carolina cited scholars Mohamed Mahmoud Mohamedou  and Davide Rodogno, who have said we live in “a resurgent age of racism wherein discrimination is globalised, normalised, and weaponised.” This is despite us seeing one of the most ethnically diverse generations of young people who will be developing in this new age. This is particularly worrying as race-based discrimination limits victims’ psychological and physical wellbeing and cognitive development, amongst other effects.
  • Global violence: Worldwide, young people are among the most affected by violent conflict, she said, citing UN World Population Prospects statistics which estimate that of the 1.3 billion 15-24-year-olds in the world, nearly one billion live in developing countries where violent conflict is likely to have taken place.
  • Inequality, Climate Change & Globalisation: She noted how it is important to remember that climate change is not just an existential threat but also a unique affront to justice. For example, “marginalised groups often live at the frontlines of resource extraction zones and toxic dumping sites, exposed to grave environmental and health hazards,” Carolina said.
 What’s next?

These trends have many implications for young people and for YMCAs. 

Carolina suggested that new teaching methods and up-skilling programmes will be necessary to equip young people for the increasingly digital world. In addition, young people’s political and peace-building agency should be cultivated; they need to be part of decision-making processes in society. Finally, systems-thinking capacities will help them to grasp and tackle today’s evermore complex challenges holistically.

In this context, YMCAs play an essential role in equipping young people with the skills to protect themselves and each other against discrimination and repression online and offline and in building “A Just World.” YMCA leaders might ask themselves, “To what extent is our YMCA diverse, equitable, and inclusive? To what extent does the YMCA equip youth and staff with human rights knowledge and skills to protect themselves and each other against repression online and offline? How is the YMCA helping to cultivate tolerance and understanding between diverse populations?