17 years old, Lower Six

“The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” [Nelson Mandela] Making this happen is a real challenge. Youths represent nearly 40% of the increasing population in the world of 190 countries. And yet, only 15 countries are governed by young leaders under the age of 50. Youths are behind revolutionary technologies such as Google, YouTube, WhatsApp and Facebook which have a great impact on our lives. These inventions have proved that the youth can change the world.

However, so far it has been limited to the fields of Information-Communications & Technology. Imagine what it would be if the youth were given the opportunity to put the same energy and passion in policy decisions and execution in spheres such as Immigration, Arts and Culture, Poverty Reduction, Disarmament, World Trade, Peace Initiatives, Foreign Affairs/Diplomacy and Climate Change…the outcomes would be different. And there have been some major movements triggered by youth such as the Arab Spring and gun control movement in the USA. They could do more if they were given the opportunity. Youths can make our planet great again!

In this world, political power is the greatest power. And all the greatest changes (and hurdles) in our societies depend on governments’ policy decisions and their execution. Youths could make the world a better place if they are in a position to influence government action. And to achieve this, youths need to be more active politically and be present in parliamentary work of their respective countries. Unfortunately, nowadays young people are less interested in politics. According to various research, it has been proved that fewer young people are seen in parliaments.

Firstly, in some countries the minimum voting age is high and the eligibility age to run for elections is also high. In such cases, potential and willing candidates have a long time to wait in which most of them tend to lose interest in matters concerning politics.

Secondly, fewer young people than older people tend to vote and join political parties, out of discouragement and disillusionment from formal politics. At the same time youths are in general too taken up by their careers to be able to meet the demands of political activities.

Thirdly, parties tend to view many interested and potential young people as ‘too young’ or ‘immature’ based on their poor political background, experience and knowledge, neglecting the fact that they have bright ideas and new thoughts which would be appreciated if implemented.

Another major reason is about the gender inequality which is maintained in parliaments. Some countries tend to discourage women into engaging in political affairs since they are considered to be inferior compared to men. According to various research, it has been proved that parliaments which limit the number of women assisting political discussions are less likely to involve young and unexperienced people.

Nonetheless, some countries have succeeded in electing high shares of young parliamentarians, suggesting that favourable contextual factors such as proportional electoral systems, strong youth movements and more inclusive political environments may play a role in opening up opportunities for young people to participate.

Some proposals

In order to overcome the above hurdles a number of measures can be taken. They are as follows:

Governments should implement reforms to provide financing of political parties based on quota for women and youth participation which would open up opportunities for youth and combat gender inequality at the same time.

Institutional reforms must be made to allow youths to take sabbatical leaves from their professional careers in order to promote their participation in political activities.

Ministries of education must work on the inclusion of political science in the school curriculum at the secondary level to increase awareness about this subject and to educate teenagers about the problems and challenges involving politics and thus making them interested in matters pertaining to law and politics since a very young age itself.

Parliaments, local government and non-governmental organizations should encourage and invest in youth parliaments and youth councils, enabling young citizens to voice out their opinions, learn the basic skills of influencing policy-making and develop the skills essential to be political effective. These organisations must focus on young people below the voting age, to avoid becoming an alternative to youth representation in national parliaments.

Parliaments and civil society organizations should come up with new technologies to share information and allow the work of parliament to be monitored more easily, making it more accessible and transparent to young people and indeed all citizens. Young people should also get involved in these monitoring tasks.

Indeed, the challenge is to accept that “Youths should be the young leaders of tomorrow” and to make it happen!