November 4, 2020

Why not? Kurdish youth campaign against polarisation

Huda Hussein, Lo Na? campaigner tells the final live, online broadcast: “The training helped me to gain new skills and develop a clear campaign message”.

After more than eight months, the youth awareness campaign ‘Lo Na?’ (meaning ‘Why not?’ in Kurdish) concluded with a vivid live broadcast across Facebook and YouTube.

Young men and women across the region want to be involved in political, social and cultural discussions. They argue that if youth are involved in decision-making, they can contribute to solutions and spread the message among their peers. Therefore, the live broadcast focused on how to move towards a less polarised and more inclusive society in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I), where young people can participate as equals. One campaign member said: “This is the start for us to build a community of youth.”

The campaign: Lo Na?

COVID-19 presented the campaign team – fourteen talented youth selected by SPARK – with great challenges, including several government lockdowns. Yet campaigners rose to the occasion and took the Lo Na campaign digital. Supported by partners RTNC and Yalla Kurdi, the team ran a successful campaign online, reaching almost 2 million views! 

The campaign focused on one question: why not? The question was directed at Kurdish youth, but also at their parents, teachers, policy makers. Focused campaigns asked why not talk peacefully about urgent matters like youth unemployment, women’s participation and migration. 

Kurdish youth search for a new start

Since the economic crisis in 2014, the KR-I has witnessed huge youth disengagement and dissatisfaction with governing authorities, who they see as over-politicised and bureaucratic, and unconnected to the needs of young people. Youth unemployment and migration to Europe has escalated over the past six years, the economic crisis is deepening (in part due to COVID-19) and the lack of radical systematic reform to address the root causes of the KR-I’s fragility continue to create further disappointment.

During Lo Na focus groups, it became clear that there is widespread disillusionment among youth and many do not identify with current political parties. In fact, many consider themselves outside of the political establishment. 

The Lo Na campaign showed young people the importance of supporting each other and creating a network of peers – despite differing political, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Aram Ismael, a campaign team member said: “This is the start for us to build a community of youth. It’s true that the campaign is finished now, but we will continue to work on what we have achieved.”

Going live: the final event

“I can see that these youth, with their new campaigning skills, are going to set an example for other youth”, said Farman Rashad, a human rights activist and director of STOP. During the final live, online broadcast, Rashad emphasised how teamwork can be challenging for Kurdish youth. “Look for example at the Parliament, how they are not able to work together. It is very important that young people learn how to work in teams, run campaigns, so they can make a difference.”

Filming the concluding live, online broadcast for the ‘Lo Na?’ campaign, September 2020

Joining four members of the campaign team, Rashad and Nechirvan Hussein, Chair of the Kurdistan Students Union, participated in a debate. They questioned the role of universities, and youth themselves, in facilitating the needs of young people. Hussein stressed that, “youth should not wait for anyone anymore, but take the lead with campaigns like these. Volunteer, participate in your school, take part in courses and training. Gain more skills and serve your community and country.”

Looking back and going forward

Bahra Mohammed, Lo Na? campaigner, organised and moderated the debate. “I wish the circumstances would have been better”, said Mohammed, “so people could be here with us, in the venue. Still, Corona[virus] didn’t stop us from running the campaign and organising this live, online broadcast. It was a big challenge, but we managed to bring this campaign to an end successfully.”

“We received a lot of criticism from our peers”, reflected Begard Sarbast, another Lo Na? campaign team member, “especially concerning the youth themselves. Many youth questioned whether we could have impact at all but we slowly got there and youth started to respond to our messages and engage in our talks.”

“The training helped me to gain new skills and develop a clear campaign message”, said Huda Hussein, Lo Na? campaigner. “Being part of this programme also helped me setting up my new business, a Kurdish brand for clothes. I realised how important it is to achieve social cohesion in your organisation and create partnerships, in this case with other local brands and SMEs.”

The Lo Na? campaign has now ended, but new campaigns will follow soon as part of the next phase of the Networks of Change by SPARK, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to promote and support peaceful youth participation in KR-I.

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