Youth and Democracy

Democracy may be a word familiar to most, but it is a concept still misunderstood and misused, especially after a time when totalitarian regimes and military dictatorships alike have attempted to claim popular support by pinning democratic labels upon themselves. Yet, the power of the democratic idea has also evoked some of history’s most profound moving expressions of human will and intellect: Pericles in ancient Athens to Vaclav Havel in modern Czech Republic.

Argentina, Bangladesh, Fiji, India, Laos, the United States Of America, Zimbabwe, wherever you go, however you want to say it, the youth is standing up and speaking up and they want their voices to be heard. Thank goodness! When the youth have a voice, civil societies become more civil, and democracies more democratic. In fact, I’d say that the youth is the next leap for democracy; the next great leap for the world. Towards a world of peace, justice and equality.

A genuinely inclusive society needs to ensure that its youth participate in all its affairs; that young people’s views are included in development policies and that young people develop leadership skills.

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Youth have always been at the forefront of political change. We know how parents and grandparents are much more cautious, much more afraid to confront apartheid whereas the young people said: we have no choice – if we are to have a future we need to take risks. That was South Africa 25 years ago. Three years back in North Africa we saw the same thing. Experts on the Arab region had often held that the youth there were too complacent and too cautious to really get politically active – but they have proved the experts wrong.

We are even seeing it in Europe, in North America and other countries that much of the discontent following the financial and economic crisis is spearheaded by youth. Again, youth have always been at the forefront of political change. But what is different today from 20 or 10 or even 5 years ago is the incredible global awareness and connectedness of youth and this brings something new. We have for the first time in human history a global political consciousness and youth are the forefront of that rapid evolution as well.

Everywhere in the world people are connected, everywhere in the world people know what is going on elsewhere in the world. We still do not know how this will affect politics in the longer term, but we can be quite sure that it will affect politics throughout the world. Hopefully it will add to democracy’s promise. It is clear from global barometers and from seeing real politics at play in different parts of the world that young people are eager on democracy’s promise. They want political equality, they want social and economic inclusion and opportunity – and they want accountable rulers.

At a United Nation’s Conference, three years back, panellists and participants coming from Tunisia provided an overview and their insights on the Tunisia uprising. It was explained that the youth can and have contributed to the democratic process of our country to defend their future. Work, dignity, international respect, and freedom were the most important things to them because they revolted against a dictatorship and went to the streets to demand freedom. The role of the media was important, since the youth had new technologies and used different methods such as Facebook, Twitter, rap, and blogs, all of which played a crucial role and created a snowball effect, giving them more courage. Civil societies in Tunisia now include mobilisation, facilitation, awareness raising, training, encouragement for young people to participate in the electoral process, organising events so people can learn the importance of participation, caravans ensuring the participation of many women many women in the electoral process.

Many young people that were at the forefront of revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, feel that while they owned the revolutions, they don’t own its aftermath: they don’t get to participate. Here lies a real challenge: How can young people make the leap from protest to participation, from revolt to representation? How can we make sure that not only do they get their voices heard, but also their votes count and their points of view influence the politics of governing?

Governments, on their part, need to be aware that if they do not reform, if they do not adapt, they may face restless and revolting youth. Therefore the issue of youth participation and youth representation needs to be taken seriously at the level of governments and at the level of international organizations. But the main responsibility still rests with young people themselves: to not give up. To not give up – because the ultimate promise of youth participation in democratic processes is not only that youth can change governments but because they can be a powerful force for changing governance – – for modernizing and reinventing governance. They can be such a force exactly because young people have a new global consciousness, because they communicate in new ways. We see all over the world how governments grapple with and are unable to communicate well with their citizens and therefore in the exercise of governance, young people can and should play a much bigger role.

Furthermore, I would like to stress upon the importance of youth in spreading democracy by stating two examples, one of which we are all aware of!

Firstly, let’s talk about Joshua Wong. Wong didn’t want to be a symbol of rebellion. He simply wanted democracy in Hong Kong. But when China announced it stood by Hong Kong’s reforms restricting the 2017 elections, Wong helped launch the Umbrella Movement advocating for democratic elections. He led protests, was arrested in September after storming the government’s headquarters and went on a five-day hunger strike to push for universal suffrage. And trust me, Wong is just a boy of 18.

And then, we all know Malala Yousafzai. What an inspiration this girl has been!

But the most important factor is our responsibility towards our society and towards ourselves. Because every responsible citizen is what makes a State worth living in!

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Bibliography: All images above have been taken from Google. None of them are clicked/created by me.

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