During the last International Democracy Day, we launched the Youth Political and Civic Engagement Cohort together with a group of governments, CSOs and international organisations engaging youth in democratic processes. The Youth Democracy Cohort is one of several multi-stakeholder platforms that have been launched as part of the Year of Action of the Summit for Democracy, initiated by the U.S. President Joe Biden in December 2021 and where President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, also participated. The Cohorts bring together governments, civil society, and the private sector – and their resources, activities and expertise – to advance good governance and democratic renewal around the world.
Ahead of the next Summit for Democracy, the Cohort has launched its Menu of Possible Commitments for Participating States to set priorities, facilitate and enhance youth civic and political participation.
What is the Menu?
The Menu provides 33 actionable and specific recommendations defining a framework of policy options to choose from and adopt as commitments, reforms, and initiatives aimed at improving youth rights and participation in their national contexts. They are the result of a consultative process involving democracy support organisations, youth representatives and youth-focused organisations from all continents.
The possible commitments cover several thematic focus areas: prioritising youth in governance, supporting youth in government, supporting youth freedom of expression, promoting a culture of youth political participation, and promoting a culture of human rights amongst youth.
The broad scope of focus areas reflects how young people’s disengagement from democracy is far from being a niche issue. It is a cross-cutting problem that affects all levels of political and civic engagement. As such, the Menu was drafted with the aim of creating an enabling environment in which young citizens – especially girls and young women – can thrive and safely participate in democratic processes.
Prioritise youth voice in governance
50% of the world’s population is under the age of 30. However, young people are conspicuously absent from political institutions and decision-making bodies. Global reform in youth participation needs to provide platforms enhancing their inclusion in legislative reform processes and representation within political parties, as well as proactively create paths to hire young people into governmental roles. Furthermore, national capacities should be strengthened to better work and engage with youth, including funding national youth policies, facilitating training for government officials and strengthening the independence and transparency of National Youth Councils.
Supporting youth in governance
Governments, political parties, and administrations are regularly accused of ‘gerontocratic’ rule across the globe. The majority of world leaders are significantly older than the median adult population in their country. Fairer laws should be adopted in order to allow young people to engage in politics, including involvement of youth in Parliamentary processes, creating inclusive environments for youth, and supporting young candidates running for office.
Supporting youth freedom of expression
Today’s younger generation is more dissatisfied with democracy in comparison to their elders. As a result, this generation participates less in elections. Yet, they are active and knowledgeable about democratic processes. Renewed, safe and inclusive engagement spaces need to make sure young advocates, artists, journalists and bloggers enjoy peaceful freedom of expression, through stronger legal frameworks, enabling civic spaces and increased opportunity for youth to observe democratic institutions.
Promoting a culture of youth political participation
In elections and everyday civic acts, young people’s ideas of what political participation means is much broader than conventional politics. A new culture of youth political participation cannot be brought forward without support to CSOs to better involve youth and lowering voting age. Election Management Bodies (EMBs) should be enabled to better reach first-time voters, effectively process ID cards to make sure young voters can cast their ballots on Election Day and make polling stations accessible. Education also must have a role. School plans need to feature election information and better highlight the experiences of young voters whose identity has more intersections, hence to include youth that are also women, people with disabilities, LGBTQI+, Indigenoius or part of a racial or religious minority.
Promoting a culture of human rights amongst youth
Creating an enabling environment in which young citizens can thrive and safely participate in democratic processes is crucial. This tarts from education: human rights issues and democratic governance should be integrated into school curricula. Concrete legislative and policy interventions are needed for an enabling environment and to eradicate all forms of discrimination against women and girls. Finally, true gender equality must be ensured in youth political participation.
The Youth Democracy Cohort plans to conduct or support actions meant to promote the commitments, advocate for their adoption, and assess their implementation at national or regional level. To support advocacy activities and programs aiming to promote the inclusion of diverse and marginalised youth in global policy fora, the Cohort just launched advocacy and action grants addressing both Cohort members and their networks.
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