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Name: Melis Layik
Dreams of: Being a lawyer, an author and a grassroots organiser
I’ve just completed my sixth unpaid internship…
I entered 2020 with the optimism that a new decade would bring me closer to the world I hoped for. It marked the beginning of my 20s and the start of making my ambitions a reality. I sensed that this would be a year of productivity which would propel me closer to my dreams. Instead, I was greeted with a year of uncertainty and stagnation.
I’m 21 now and in my fourth year of studying Law and Global Studies. I want to make material changes in women’s lives while also advocating for a radical restructuring of our world and society’s perception of gender. Fortunately, I’ve witnessed, even in my short lifetime, a shift in how we discuss gender and sexuality. The relentless work of the women before me is paying off. And now it’s my turn. I’m still unsure of how I’ll make my mark. Maybe I’ll be a lawyer working for survivors of gender-based violence, a grassroots organiser or an author. Idealistically, I believe I can be all three. One day I hope I can be the woman that bold young girls can look up to and feel a sense of belonging; the kind of woman that gave me comfort and inspiration when I was a young girl, isolated in my Melbourne home with my Turkish parents who did not know how to raise a girl who was opinionated and bold.
I’ve done my rounds interning at (disturbingly underfunded) women’s rights organisations. In fact, I’ve just completed my sixth unpaid internship and I’m wondering if I’ll ever be economically independent enough to be inspiring to anyone. Cumulatively, I’ve done over a year’s worth of work for free. I’ve been told that this is what I must do if I hope to ever get a paid job. But if that logic checks out then the gap between the classes is sure to exacerbate, with only wealthier students being able to obtain well-paying jobs. After all, to do an unpaid internship you need to have the financial security to engage in it without becoming economically compromised. I guess this is why we’re all so anti-capitalist now.
I’m still one of the luckier ones; I receive Youth Allowance, get support from my parents and have (or had) multiple casual gigs. Prior to Covid, I relied on all three of these avenues to cover my needs. Centrelink has always been unreliable; I’m in that strange spot where I’m considered dependent but my parents’ income is just high enough that I can only access $200 a month, which barely covers food. Since I’m an only child, my parents have been able to support me, and the casual nature of my jobs have aligned well with my studies, while giving me the chance to partake in voluntary work.
Due to my privilege, I am reticent to complain. Yet, now more than ever, young people are feeling the strain of an economic system built to devour us. Pitted against each other, we compete to get the chance to have our labour exploited. It’s harrowing and infuriating. I’ve worked in countless hospitality roles where I’ve been underpaid, harassed by managers and forced to work unpaid overtime. I’ve equally spent hours of my life completing personality tests to get minimum wage at Target. The cost of my degree is increased annually, as my class size grows.
At the start of the pandemic, I was notified that all three of my casual jobs were temporarily suspended with one week’s notice. They haven’t returned. Now, my financial survival depends on the predilections of the government and the generosity of my parents. Relying on endlessly fluctuating government payments is paralysing as it’s impossible to predict when they’ll be reduced or cut and when my gigs will return. Constantly asking for parental assistance feels infantilising and undignified, particularly when your parents have also lost their jobs. Although, most young people are much worse off than me; I recently found out that my friend didn’t turn his heater on all winter because he couldn’t afford it.
To compound all this, my mental health has been in hasty decline. Both my diagnosed eating disorder and personality disorder have been aggravated by this period of forced isolation. The shutdown of society worsened my disordered thoughts around food and body image and the aggressive advertising I’ve received for “home workouts” and “tips on staying thin in lockdown” have not helped. I’m not happy where I’m living and I’m desperately trying to find another place to live that won’t compromise me financially.
Overall, this has been a very disheartening start to both my 20s and the 2020s. I hope the next few months bring some hope.
Source: The Guardian
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