By Onwughalu Queen Ifunanya
Despite making up more than half of the population in many countries, young people (ages 18-45) often find themselves marginalized from mainstream politics and decision making. They struggle to gain the respect of public officials and are seen as lacking the skills and experience to engage in political activity and lead positive change in their communities. This exclusion, combined with limited educational and economic opportunities, can leave young people both idle and frustrated with the status quo.
Today’s youth people need real opportunities to participate in political processes and contribute to practical solutions that advance development. When given an opportunity to organize, voice their opinions and play a meaningful role in political decision making, young people consistently demonstrate their willingness and ability to foster positive, lasting change. They also become more likely to demand and defend democracy, and gain a greater sense of belonging.
Some of the reasons are:
1) Lack of knowledge and awareness about roles:
Young people are sometimes unaware of what a representation/political career would entail – beyond attending functions and campaigns.
2) Gender Power relations:
The older ones are often times not interested to see young ones in their space so they tend to block this space Further, the space for young women to participate is hampered by the patriarchal nurture at the household level and externally.
3) Financial limitation:
Young people do not have the resources to engage actively in a context that has monetized politics.
Without the financial muscle it becomes hard and almost impossible to draw attention and votes, nobody will listen. In some contexts it is no longer politics of ideas and issues but how well one can pay for votes or use money to protect the votes during elections.
Few solutions to this pressing problem:
i. Identify them early from the young prefects, identify role models who can be coached, mentored and exposed for the representation role. Interest in representation starts at an early age,
ii. Through civic education there is need to continuously advocate for issue based politics as opposed to commercialized politics.
iii. School programs such as debating clubs, students councils, patriotism clubs that nurture political representation and leadership ambitions at an early age should be revitalized.
iv. For the young women, parents should be supportive and provide the exposure and space to participate as opposed to keeping the girls silenced and in the kitchen.
What can parliaments, governments, political parties, and civil society do to increase young women and men’s representation in politics? Do you have examples of good practices?
i. In some countries, political parties do their recruitment at student level at the universities, these students proceed to work as interns or staffers in the party. With this approach, the party ideals are inculcated at an early age and one decides from the onset which political party to go based on the ideologies which are also mostly influenced by religion, economic background hence accounting for liberal versus conservative, pro-life or otherwise, taxing the wealthier or not, etc.
ii. Clearly define ideals along party lines or national values to guide leadership. This would be a good way to interest young people along specific ideals/values
iii. The Parliamentary youth forum and Youth councils in Uganda should be reinvigorated to support representation by the youth. This can be done through targeted capacity development interventions.
iv. Leaders should be encouraged to evolve succession plan, this should involve identifying a potential successors early and nurturing the individuals to the desired position.
v. Innovative to create employment and spur economic growth. This will definitely lead shift the terrain of representation from a commercialized one to a better crop of leaders and also an economically empowered youth would be more interested in policies and politics.
- What are some of the most innovative alternative methods (marches, sit-ins…) to formal political participation that young people choose to bring about change and be heard?
i. Position papers based on evidence
ii. Lobbying and caucusing to get issues incorporated in key country statements, budgets, policies etc iii. Institute forum for quick regular discussions with young people thinking of leadership positions – e.g. Use mobile phones and the internet to create leadership communities that can share ideas, party news and information. iv. Popularize and raise awareness about good leadership – Young people need to know what is possible with good leadership.
v. Mobilization through sports, Music and drama (that most youth are interested in) can be viable entry point to bring about change and ensuring young people are heard.
To be continued…………..