Young people need democracy – and democracy needs young people

(Above: Social media training with Youth Ambassadors from the East African Legislative Assembly)

Well-functioning democracies can help young people tackle the biggest problems they face – and Westminster Foundation for Democracy is working to help them do so.

But across all kinds of democracies, the disconnect between young people and those that represent them seems to be growing.

Just look at the recent EU referendum vote in Britain. Despite being a decision which would impact on young people’s future for decades to come, fewer people aged between 18 and 24 turned out to vote than did those aged over 65.

Across the Atlantic, both the Democrat and Republican parties have seen popular anti-establishment candidates driven in part by dissatisfied young voters.

And in the Middle East and Africa, young people out of work are demanding to know why youth unemployment is not being tackled – and increasingly using social media to make their dissatisfaction heard.

Young people need effective and inclusive governance because policies in areas like education, climate change, healthcare and job security will have a fundamental impact on their futures. The young face huge debts, inadequate services and a planet whose natural resources are quickly running out. Engaging in politics is key to ensuring that what they care about is addressed.

At the heart of much of WFD’s programming is an effort to involve young people. Their representation and involvement in the political process lies at the core of an effective democracy.

So this International Youth Day we wanted to highlight some of the ways we’re supporting young people’s engagement in politics. Here are five examples which show what WFD does for young people around the world.

(Above: Africa Liberal Network at London Youth Academy 2016)

Political party youth networks

Youth engagement features prominently across the work of all the political parties whose programmes are supported by WFD.

From the Labour Party support to young social democrats in Moldova to the Conservative Party development of the International Young Democrat Union, long-term efforts are being made to train the next generation of political activists.

Supporting and developing the skills of young people to play an active and effective role in party politics, decisions, and representation at local, national and international levels is fundamental to political party youth networks.

Take the Liberal Democrats support to the Democratic Alliance’s Young Leaders Programme in South Africa. This year they want to build on their previous success, by cultivating a new generation of emotionally intelligent and politically astute leaders within the Democratic Alliance and contributing to South Africa’s political future.

Children’s rights are human rights

Young people can be excellent advocates for change. When given the right encouragement, they can be shown how to engage with parliament and be real champions for progress on human rights.

Civil society organisations supported by WFD’s Macedonia programme are seeking legislative change on a range of issues which affect young people. They’re seeking better child marriage laws and legislation outlawing discrimination in educational institutions.

By showing young people how to achieve change by getting involved in changing legislation that impacts on them, WFD is raising awareness amongst young people in Macedonia about their rights.

An active civil society which can lobby parliament effectively to achieve changes in legislation will also show young people it’s possible to get involved in politics outside of political parties.

(Above: Ben Jones participating in the EU election observation in Guinea)

Training the next generation of election observers

Ensuring elections take place without corruption or manipulation is a fundamental part of any democracy.

WFD wants its cohort of observers to be truly representative of all parts of society, which is why we’re so committed to encouraging young people to be involved in this process.

It was great to see the level of participation from young people at WFD’s training, held in January 2016, on election observation methodology.

Ben Jones , one of WFD’s youngest election observers has participated in missions from Gabon to Serbia, and found the training in January extremely useful. He now wants to share the principles he learnt at the training with the election observation organisation he works with, AEGEE, who are committed to empowering young Europeans to make a direct personal contribution to democracy as election observers.

Advocating for Iraqi children’s future

Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s support for Dar Al- Khebra Organisation (DKO), a think-tank based in Baghdad, has led to numerous policy proposals being put forwards which had the promise of helping young people, from legislative ideas protecting orphans to proposals to improve the country’s national curriculum.

One promising policy change now submitted for consideration within the Iraqi Education Ministry is a legislative amendment which would finance a major push to improve Iraq’s schools infrastructure.

This potential change in policy has not yet occurred – yet by influencing the Council of Representatives and the executive, the WFD-supported DKO is helping improve representation of young people’s interests.

Our new programming in the country works to support the country’s Anti-Corruption Commissions, which will also help its representative institutions better represent the interests of Iraq’s youth.

Engaging Youth Ambassadors with the East Africa Legislative Assembly

Understanding how young people communicate is key to getting them more involved in politics – especially in the context of rapid growth in social media.

The commitment of the East Africa Legislative Assembly to reach out to citizens, especially the young, has led it to seek to modernise its approach to communications with WFD’s support.

Our programme trained EALA Youth Ambassadors on the importance of social media and how this can be used for three-way interaction between civil society organisations, citizens and the Assembly.

Videos and a new website accompanied the training in a bid to increase knowledge amongst young people about what the Legislative Assembly could do for them.

Young people bring an enthusiasm for innovation and change where communications technology is concerned. This should inspire politicians to connect through the channels that are the most effective.

This is exactly what has happened at the East African Legislative Assembly. It’s the kind of change which WFD, committing to improving the representation and engagement of young people around the world, is delighted to have helped bring about.

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