Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When you step down from the role, what will be the main lessons to pass on to the next president in terms of expectations and managing an international presence, which is no small feat?
Marieke Prien: You need a good team and good plans.
Without a working team, you cannot really do anything.
Of course, there will be ups and downs, people who do more or better work and others who do less.
But those should be single cases. In my opinion, people who have not done well deserve another chance and should be provided support if they need it. This support could be help with certain tasks or something boosting their motivation. But if it becomes clear that they are causing more work than they get done, it’s better to ask them to leave the team.
If overall everybody does a great job, is motivated and willing to spend time and energy, and you can trust them, that is the basis you need.
A hierarchy is necessary for productivity and decision making, but in my opinion, this should not be reflected in how people treat each other. For example, everybody must have the opportunity to say their opinion and voice concerns or make suggestions, and we should meet each other as equals.
Regarding the plans, you must have an understanding of where you are and where you want to go.
You must know what is currently going on: What is done or needs to be done in the background to keep things working, to have a stable fundament? And which projects are we doing based on this fundament?
The same goes for future plans. What do we want to do and what is necessary to do this?
Also, the plans have to be consistent with what is realistic. In IHEYO, everybody is a volunteer. Nobody is paid for the work, everybody does this on top of their job or studies. This gives us certain limits. The limits won’t stop us, but they affect us.
Jacobsen: What are some of the main ways youth humanists tend to become involved in activism, e.g. in combating religious overreach in culture or law, in coming together for LGBTQ+ rights, and in fighting for the fragile rights of the secular and irreligious?
Prien: These topics are so important for the youth because they affect their everyday life. When you start having more freedoms, you immediately see where this freedom is cut and who is behind that. Becoming adults, the young people get a better understanding and more awareness of what is going wrong.
To be involved in activism, you need connections to other activists (or those who want to become active). Sure, you could do something on your own, but most people gather in groups.
In the beginning, something needs to challenge the person and make them aware of the problem they then decide to fight against. For example, a young person may be made uncomfortable for their sexuality, or they realize a friend is forced to follow strict religious rules. Then, they try to gather more information and talk to others about the issue. This can be face to face or online. When I was in the USA for a semester abroad, I loved how many clubs the university had that got people involved. This is such a great way to help people become active, and it has a good scope.
The internet is also a huge help. It makes it super easy to find like-minded persons and interact with them, and to potentially plan activities.
We probably all know people who like to post articles and rant online about issues but without going out and becoming actually active. And often times this is frowned upon. While I also believe that working in an organization or the like is way more effective and cannot be replaced, the online activities also do help the cause in that they can trigger fruitful discussions and get people interested in topics.
Jacobsen: On the note of activism, we both know of the attacks on women’s rights ongoing since, probably, their inception, but the recent attack appears to be focused on reproductive health rights. What are concerns for you regarding women’s rights, and especially reproductive health rights from a youth humanist angle?
Prien: One main part of humanism is that it wants people to live freely and make their own decisions, forming their lives and going their ways. Cutting reproductive health rights means cutting this freedom. It takes away women’s authority over their bodies and their life plans. The second point also affects men, though overall the effect is much stronger on women.
So this is one point where cutting reproductive health rights disagrees with humanism.
Another huge problem I see is that many people are unable or unwilling to make a distinction between their personal opinions and emotions (often influenced by their religion), and what may be “right” for others. For example, if you would personally feel bad about getting an abortion, you should still see the other side and accept that other people think an abortion is a right decision, and let them make their choice.
We must make a difference between opinion and fact, and many lobby groups mix these things up, actively misinforming or making false assumptions and relations. For example, some anti-abortion groups try to make people feel bad by saying that contraceptives and masturbation are immoral and against their religion.
Or they say that in the period where abortion is legal in some states, the fetus already has a heartbeat. That is true, but it does not mean that it can feel pain (or anything at all, for that matter) because its brain has not developed for that yet. But the fact of the fetus having a heartbeat is used to evoke emotions in people and to lead them to draw the conclusion that something with a heartbeat surely also feels pain.
As a humanist, I want people to make a choice based on facts and universal ethics, not based on opinions, superstition beliefs, and false statements. And I want people to understand that their personal opinion is just an opinion that does not necessarily count for others.
Cutting the reproductive health rights also causes a lot of other problems. It can lead to huge physical, psychological and social problems. For example, if a woman needs an abortion but cannot legally get one where she lives, she may decide to go through a very unsafe illegal procedure or spend a lot of money (that she doesn’t necessarily have) to go to a place where abortion is legal.
That being said, of course, an abortion could also cause emotional and mental damage. I am not trying to say that one should just get it carelessly. I am just trying to show that while it would be the wrong decision for some, it is the right one for others.
What really bugs me is the hypocrisy many anti-abortion groups or individuals show. They claim that they are pro-life, caring for everyone’s right to live. But they don’t care about the mothers’ lives, they don’t care about the circumstances for babies up for adoption, some even mistreat and judge single mothers working really hard to feed their children. That’s not charity.
Regarding women’s rights in general, things have changed for the better, but the fight is not over. Sadly, many people only point to the successes, ignoring that there are still problems. This also goes for other issues like racism. If you are in the privileged group, it is easy to overlook discrimination. But just because you don’t see it, it doesn’t mean that discrimination does not exist.
I also believe that many people choose to disregard concerns or complaints expressed to them because, if they believed them, they would have to admit they do or have done something wrong.
I wish that people would make more of an effort and listen, open their eyes, have empathy and change their behavior if necessary.
Original Publication in Humanist Voices.