A large group of people participating in the World Walk.

Curriculum, Engagement, Equity, Sustainability

Active citizenship education to empower young people

Anxiety about the environment, a sense of helplessness, pessimism about the future, individualism – the world is going through a dark time and many people are concerned about the morale of young people and their ability to exercise active citizenship. However, Oxfam-Québec meets thousands of young people every year who are exercising their citizenship in the fields of climate, economics and gender justice, with both hope and ingenuity.

For over 45 years, our organization has been active in schools to encourage youth civic engagement so we can build a fair, sustainable world. We believe that young people wield citizen power and that it is crucial to treat them as what they are – agents of change – and in light of what they do – take unified action to fight inequalities.

When describing Oxfam-Québec’s current educational activities, we talk about global citizenship education, an educational approach that helps young people grow into responsible, united citizens of the world. The goal of this educational continuum is to inform youth, mobilize them, encourage them to influence the halls of power, and promote their activities. Young people join this movement by attending in-class workshops; taking part in the World Walk, which for many is their first experience of collective action; working on long-term projects like fundraising for sustainable development projects; or by engaging in calls for action as part of mobilization campaigns.

All of these activities correspond to specific elements in the Quebec Education Program (QEP), in terms of its mission, broad areas of learning, skills to be developed, and progression of learning. Oxfam is even cited as a cultural reference in the school curriculum, under the theme of wealth disparity in the Contemporary World course offered in Grade 11. All of our resources clearly identify the corresponding QEP elements. Many teachers, as well as non-teaching staff like spiritual leaders and community programmers, use these resources in class or as part of extracurricular activities. Given their demanding mandates and busy schedules, school staff members appreciate the support of our team, which offers learning activities to meet their needs. To use these resources, one can find all the information needed on the Oxfam-Québec site, under the heading Ressources pour les milieux scolaires (School resources, in French only).

The educational activities we offer are both transformative and empowering. In particular, they enable girls and minority youth to have a voice and be heard in their fight against injustice. We can build a fair world without poverty if young people mobilize to exercise their global citizenship, solve problems, and work with their peers around the globe.

In accordance with UNESCO guidelines, the Oxfam confederation believes that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations must be the priorities driving global citizenship education. In the following paragraphs, we present groups of educational activities tailored for four SDGs. These activities have been adapted to remain accessible during the pandemic, using online communication tools and interactive digital resources.

SDG 5, Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, is the heart of our work: it is impossible to build a just world if half of humanity cannot flourish and have their rights respected.

For example, the campaign Les tâches ménagères et le travail de soin. Ça compte! (Make Care Count) teaches young people about the unequal division of care work between the sexes, notably through a policy paper entitled Time to Care. A free workshop, Libres de choisir (Free to Choose), teaches high school students about sexual rights – which are a human right – and encourages them to consider the social and cultural context when reflecting on the impact of failing to respect these rights. The workshop’s title, referencing the question of freedom of choice, is significant: when it comes to choice, the inequalities faced by teenage girls around the world have major consequences on their lives. In Quebec as well, young people must make choices about their sexual rights. After taking this workshop, young people are invited to support a project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Healthy Mothers, Healthy children, which aims to improve the health of women, teens, and children. In the case of older youth ages 18 to 30, the project C’est pour elles aussi (It’s her right, too) can help develop their abilities to mobilize friends and family and disseminate positive messages using coordinated actions, digital action plans, and meetings with elected officials.

“My participation in the Oxfam-Québec project ‘C’est pour elles aussi’ (It’s her right, too) helped me understand that my voice is valid and that I have the right to be heard. Social networks are powerful allies for raising people’s awareness and advancing the debate. […] The team introduced me to theoretical concepts related to cyber activism and gave me the courage I needed to use my voice! I was even empowered to develop my own platform of inspiring resources on Instagram (@lesensduchaos) to counter the psychological stress caused by the lockdown.”

– Laurence C. Germain, participant in the Oxfam-Québec “C’est pour elles aussi” project

SDG 13, Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, plays a key role in Oxfam’s educational outreach efforts. This issue is intertwined with all global issues of inequality: historic, socioeconomic, and gender inequalities.

The campaign devoted to this topic is called Climat de justice (Climate justice). Like the content in the free workshop offered to young people ages 12 to 30, the campaign highlights the injustices associated with the climate crisis, and the outsized impact this crisis is having on the people who produce the fewest carbon emissions. Since indignation can be a powerful driving force, the young people involved can then participate in the 50th World Walk for Climate Justice. The World Walk is the culmination of a year of action. To highlight these efforts, the Oxfam-Québec team has asked the young people preparing for the walk to meet several challenges, from filming a video to speaking to the media. At the beginning of the school year, young people can also organize a symbolic, united action in their respective schools called Stand Up for the Planet to tell decision-makers they are committed to climate justice.

“To everyone who says that we can’t accomplish anything, look at us – 6,000 young people marching for the world! I am really proud to see this! It is our place, meaning that, regardless of our age, gender, colour, or religion, we have the right to use our voice.”

– Estelle Lafrance, age 17, member of the Oxfam-Québec Youth Seat, participant and spokesperson for the World Walk

Smiling young people at the front of a group who is marching in the streets.

Of course, SDG 1, End poverty in all its forms everywhere, underpins all the others. It is important to talk to young people about the economy and deconstruct dogmas that hinder a real understanding of possible solutions so everyone can live with dignity on this planet.

Along these lines, there is a free workshop for young people on the new economic model created by Oxfam. L’économie du beigne (Doughnut Economics) rejects the obsession with infinite growth at all cost and proposes instead that the economy target the well-being of humanity by respecting a series of social indicators without overshooting any planetary boundaries. This new model has already been adopted by many cities around the world, including Brussels, Amsterdam, and Nanaimo in Canada. This workshop is part of the campaign Taxing wealth: Flattening inequalities. Young people are invited to sign the petition addressed to the Canadian government asking it to rebuild an economy that is capable of tackling inequalities. In anticipation of the upcoming municipal elections, young people could ask candidates if they are interested in applying the doughnut economics model to their city. A wonderful way to learn about politics!

Doughnut economics also refers to SDG 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.

An innovative Oxfam-Québec project started some 15 years ago introducing young people to the values of innovation, creativity, and sustainability advocated by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC): Magasin du Monde (World Shop). This initiative has students create social economy businesses to promote fair trade. Participants create a shop, sit on a board of directors, and share the tasks involved: market research, inventory management and sales, activities to educate the school community, and internal and external communications. The shops do not sell ordinary products, as everything is certified fair trade and a percentage of the profits are used to support a sustainable development project. In some cases, the entire local community participates in the project, which becomes an engine of development. This happens, for example, when local farmers’ markets and tourism agencies help to promote these extraordinary shops.

“The work we accomplished on the committee for a sustainable City of Mont-Saint-Hilaire has increased my desire to have an impact on the world in which I live. It is proof that when you work at it, anything is possible!”

– Émile Chapdelaine, founding member of the World Shop at École Ozias-Leduc, member of the Oxfam-Québec Youth Observatory, and a member of the committee that helped get Mont-Saint-Hilaire recognized as a Fair Trade Town.

Research on and assessments of student participation in these so-called “civic engagement” activities reveal many benefits for the young people themselves. Those interviewed report improved self-esteem and a greater sense of responsibility. In addition, they exhibit an increase in positive social attitudes and a decrease in risky behaviours. This is mainly due to a greater sense of belonging to their school and improved academic results.

An external impact assessment carried out last year (Sogémap) confirmed the positive effect of youth civic engagement. According to this document, Oxfam-Québec’s global citizenship education programming enables young people to develop an awareness of global issues, an open, engaged mind and an increased ability to defend arguments. Not surprisingly, young people who take part in these activities maintain their civic engagement when they become adults.

In light of the above, it is easy to understand why encouraging young people to exercise their citizenship is crucial to supporting democracy and achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Back in 2017, the United Nations Population Fund noted that meeting the SDGs relies on bold measures to ensure that 60 million girls around the globe can live a life of dignity. In this pandemic period, young people, like the rest of the world, are experiencing unprecedented crises that directly threaten their present and future lives. By working with schools, Oxfam-Québec hopes to provide them with concrete measures for overcoming this challenge and support their efforts to create a more sustainable, inclusive society.


This article is translated from the original French. Some resources are also available in English; check the websites.

Resources for SDG 5:

Resources for SDG 13:

Resources for SDG 1:

Resources for SDG 8:

Photos : La Boîte 7

First published in Education Canada, March 2021

Read other articles from this issue


Caron, C. (2018). La citoyenneté des adolescents du 21e siècle dans une perspective de justice sociale : pourquoi et comment ? www.erudit.org/fr/revues/lsp/2018-n80-lsp03532/1044109ar/

Gingras, M.-P., Phillipe, F.L., Poulin, F., Robitaille, J (2018). Étude sur les obstacles à la mise en place d’activités d’engagement civique en milieu scolaire au Québec. Canadian Journal of Education, 41(3), 661-687. https://journals.sfu.ca/cje/index.php/cje-rce/article/view/3177

Philippe, F. (2019). Projet de recherche Réussir : 15 constats révélateurs sur l’impact des activités d’engagement civique chez les jeunes de niveau secondaire au Québec. www.elaborer.org/pdf/R3.pdf

United Nations Population Fund. (2017). Worlds apart: Reproductive health and rights in an age of inequality. www.unfpa.org/swop-2017

Meet the Expert(s)

Marie Brodeur Gélinas

Consultante en éducation

An educator who advocates a decolonizing, empowering approach to education, Marie Brodeur Gélinas is passionate about issues of social, economic and gender justice.

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Geneviève-Gaël Vanasse

Coordonnatrice - Engagement du public, Oxfam-Québec

With a degree in didactics, Geneviève-Gaël Vanasse, co-ordinator of Oxfam-Québec's public engagement programs, has worked on global citizenship education in NGOs for nearly 20 years.

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