Date: 
Thursday 10 December 2015

Yen Eriksen (pictured second from left), the winner of the 2015 Young People’s Human Rights Medal, is a radio host and documentary-maker committed to expanding our understanding of the ways people experience oppression.

She is also a founding member of the ACT Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTIQ) Ministerial Advisory Council and has worked tirelessly on LGBTIQ issues.

Ms Eriksen, 23, became interested in human rights at an early age. She recalls, as a high-school student, printing out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and taping it to her cupboard door.

“It came with the territory of being born in Australia, to migrant parents, being born a woman and being born, knowing from a very young age, that I was queer.

“I think all of those things fed into an experience of inequality and fed into intellectually realising that the world is not necessarily an equal or just place,” she says.

Ms Eriksen is a great believer in the power of grass-roots activism.

“I think that grassroots activism … is really meaningful because you actually see the change in people, you see how it feels to actually gain access to something, to gain a voice when you make a radio program.

“When you have this huge, global, historic inequality, it’s really hard to feel connected to the work you do unless you can feel it on a local, personal, small scale.

Ms Eriksen says she would like to see human rights organisations, and people who are engaged with human rights, also engage with a conversation about intersectional experiences of oppression.

She say this means recognising that the experiences of being a woman intersect with the experiences of not being white, or the experiences or being a queer woman.

“In lots of ways, human rights work can have value added to it when people make those links … sometimes it’s not good enough to assume that the people that you advocate for are experiencing one type of marginalisation, and not all of those types.

“For example, to assume that all the women we work for are cis-gendered [not transgendered], straight, white women from a middle-class is not a good enough assumption to make.”

Ms Eriksen was one of five finalists selected for the 2015 Young People's Human Rights Medal.

Pictured, from left, are finalists Adam Schwartz, Ms Eriksen, Prudence Melom, Drisana Levitzke-Gray, and Justice King.

The 2015 Human Rights Awards are streamed on YouTube. The winners are:

• The Human Rights Medal: Peter Greste
Mr Greste spent 400 days in an Egyptian jail after being arrested in Cairo and charged for terrorism-related offences in 2013/14. His trial was widely criticised for its lack of evidence. Following his release, Mr Greste used his case as a platform to advocate for freedom of speech and a free media.

• The Young People’s Human Rights Medal: Yen Eriksen
Ms Eriksen, 23, uses her radio show to raise awareness of issues facing women and the LGBTIQ community. She became interested in human rights from an early age. “It came with the territory of being born in Australia, to migrant parents, being born a woman and being born, knowing from a very young age, that I was queer.”

• The Law Award: Genevieve Bolton
Ms Bolton has dedicated her career to improving access to justice and is a powerful advocate for systemic change. She is principal solicitor at Canberra Community Law.

• The Business Award (joint winners): Coles and Maitree House Productions
Coles has a long-running Indigenous employment program which supports positive experiences for Indigenous staff and customers. Maitree House Productions uses multimedia tools to give voice to young people, women, and Indigenous people.

• The ‘Racism. It Stops With Me’ Award: Tasmanian Students Against Racism
Students Against Racism is a productive and effective education and advocacy group involving more than 10,000 participants. The Students Against Racism workshop has been included in University and TAFE courses.

• The Tony Fitzgerald Memorial Community Award: Ludo McFerran
Ms McFerran has a long history of working for the rights of women and children, researching and identifying innovative solutions to family violence.

• The Media Award: Kirsti Melville for The Storm (Radio National, ABC)
Ms Melville’s powerful documentary tells the story of her former partner Erik’s sexual abuse as a child. Erik speaks frankly about his abuse, its legacy and the toll it took on his relationships. The Storm also illustrates the failings of the compensation system.