Lucy Milburn 14th February 2019
Skipping school is only authorised under exceptional circumstances, and what could be more exceptional than a life-threatening global crisis?
On Friday, pupils across more than 40 UK towns and cities are expected to walk out of lessons to demand action against climate change. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old who protested outside the Swedish Parliament last year, the teenagers leading the strikes are angry, informed and predominantly female. These demonstrations should be applauded for empowering young women to act on their beliefs.
While Westminster remains preoccupied by Brexit, young people are refusing to sit in the classroom and learn about a world that may not exist in their future. Attending school is obviously fundamental, but the urgency of climate change demands immediate attention.
According to a report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last October, we only have 12 years to slash carbon emissions and avert environmental disaster. Today’s teens are the ones who will be living with the consequences of government inaction, and they won’t be deterred by the threat of a detention.
The #YouthStrike4Climate movement is empowering young women to stand up for themselves and their rights. This is particularly important because women will be disproportionately affected by climate change across the globe, according to the World Health Organisation. Whether it’s due to a lack of socioeconomic power or family responsibility, women suffer the most during natural disasters, and they have a greater stake in the fight against climate change.
Teenagers like Thunberg and UK co-ordinator Anna Taylor, 17, are being recognised as voices of the future. From period-poverty campaigner Amika George to Gina Martin who recently celebrated the passing of her “upskirting” bill, young female activists are stepping up their game and refusing to let their issues take a backseat in Parliament. At a time when the potential of the youth vote is being recognised, we should be celebrating the young people taking the reins in the protest movement.
Of course, there will be scepticism from those who refuse to believe in the capabilities of young women and the power of social media to mobilise teens around the world. The attempts to undermine Thunberg’s actions emphasise the maturity of her arguments — she must be a puppet for her parents or the figurehead for a radical group, because how can a schoolgirl be so accurate about the state of our planet?
Despite the social significance of the strikes, plans to skip school have been met with predictable objections. “Why not protest in your free time?” the adults argue. “Won’t this set a precedent for kids to miss all of their lessons?” “Surely it’s more beneficial to learn about climate change from the security of the classroom?”
Social awareness, civic engagement and self-belief certainly can’t be taught from a textbook
My own high school experience only came to an end five years ago. Naturally bright and hard-working, I excelled in my classes and rarely skipped a day. But, like many girls, I hated school and I often dreaded the day ahead. Stifled by a bland curriculum, “life skills” lessons with no bearing on life beyond the classroom, and a belief that politics was a rich man’s world, I was completely uninspired during my time at school.
At 16, I’d never have believed my voice could be heard or my actions could make a difference.
Participating in the #YouthStrike4Climate movement is a valuable and empowering life experience for young women across the country. Social awareness, civic engagement and self-belief certainly can’t be taught from a textbook. It’s time to give young people more credit — these strikes are the result of shared frustration and concern for the future, not the desire to cheat their way out of class.
Lucy Milburn 14th February 2019