Helena Edvinsson – Children’s Champion of Local Democracy

“Children and young people are a large part of a municipality’s citizens, and their voices must be included in all the processes of the municipality. Childhood is not a transport route to becoming an adult, it is about the children having a good life NOW”, says Helena Edvinsson, Children’s Ombudsman in Strängnäs Municipality, Sweden.

Helena has been involved in ICLD’s programmes since 2006, when she as project manager for Strängnäs Municipality applied for a municipal partnership with the district Simanjiro, Tanzania. The partnership, which initially concerned meeting places for children and leaders, developed into a collaboration on student councils with one of the Maasai villages in the district, which became a role model for the nearby villages. The collaboration was finalized after ten years, after which Strängnäs began a new partnership with the city of Dar es Salaam.

– At first, it was easier to collaborate with an urban partner. Better internet connection meant that it was easier to have continuous dialogue. During their collaboration, student councils were also started in three primary schools with positive results.

But due to different needs for development, Helena and Strängnäs Municipality have now chosen to move the collaboration back from Dar es Salaam to where it all began. Therefore, an Inception Phase for a municipal partnership focusing on social sustainability has started with the Maasai village Emboreet in the district of Simanjiro, to continue the work of making children’s voices heard in northern Tanzania.

“Children should be respected today and not because they are the future”

Helena’s lifelong passion for the democratic inclusion of children is based on her background as a drama teacher.

– After my education, there were no positions as a drama teacher, it was a new concept that was rather unknown. I moved around the country and ended up in Strängnäs, where I had been offered a part-time position. I thought I would stay around for maybe 5 years, and that was in 1983!

Since then, Helena has partly worked with drama in the municipality’s schools, but she has also been cultural secretary and head of Strängnäs Kulturskola. Her journey eventually led her to the role of Ombudsman for Children.

– Through all the different assignments, I have always stressed the importance of taking children’s ideas into account, for example through different cultural activities with children in focus and dialogues with children in different contexts. Together with three colleagues, I started the work of implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child as early as 2000 and have since been committed to making the voices of children heard. In 2010, this led to the municipality establishing a position as local children’s ombudsman.

Helena is determined that children’s opinions must be included in decision-making processes. She is therefore happy to reach out to the municipality’s children in person to listen to their ideas.

– It can be anything from views on detailed plans, new traffic plans, or signs with new names to playgrounds. My commitment is to let children participate in a timely manner when changes are to be implemented. I go around to the schools and meet children, tell them what is going on and ask if they are interested in participating and voicing their perspectives. Children should be respected today and not because they are the future.

About our series Champions of Local Democracy

Within this series, we tell personal stories about individuals who inspire others and let democratic values live on. Regardless of gender, status, or the burdensome situations that they might have endured, they have never backed away from the democratic frontline. Our champions have been, or are currently, a part of our operations at ICLD. Read former portraits