Young people between the ages of 15 and 25 constitute a fifth of the world’s population. While they are often involved in informal, politically relevant processes, such as activism or civic engagement, they are not formally represented in national political institutions such as parliaments and many of them do not participate in elections. This can impact on the quality of democratic governance.
The inclusion of youth in formal politics is important, as the 2011/2012 Arab States popular uprisings and various Occupy movements have demonstrated. In countries in transition, fresh ideas and new leadership can help to overcome authoritarian practices. Where youth-led protests have forced authoritarian regimes from power, significant frustration is likely to arise if youth are not included in new formal decision-making. This can destabilize democratization and accelerate conflict dynamics.
The international community has recognized the importance of youth participating in political systems, including through several international conventions and UN resolutions.
In line with these commitments, UNDP views youth as a positive force for transformative social change, and aims to help enhance youth political participation. This guide summarizes some good practices to consider for UNDP, other development practitioners and electoral stakeholders in working towards that goal.
A basic principle is that support for the political participation of young people should extend across the electoral cycle. Capacity development for young candidates, for example, has proven to be more effective as a continuous effort than as a one-off event three months before an election.
Young people who participate actively in their community from early on are more likely to become engaged citizens and voters. This guide traces some entry points before, during and after elections, drawing on UNDP’s electoral cycle approach, which emphasizes strategic interventions beyond the electoral event.
Another core principle is that youth political participation needs to be meaningful and effective, going beyond token gestures. Capacity development is an integral measure, and while building individual capacities is key, the capacities of organizations and the degree to which an environment enables individuals and institutions to participate in political processes can also be factored in.
It has been found to be beneficial when interventions to assist youth are as youth-driven as possible. They can encourage youth to participate in project management, partner with youth-led initiatives, and facilitate youth inclusion in national and local consultation processes, including through new technology. Following a rights-based approach entails considering youth as potential agents of change—as part of the solution, not a problem to be resolved by others. Further, young people are not a homogenous block and other social aspects (such as gender, rural/urban dwelling, ethnicity, language, among others) need to be taken into consideration when designing interventions.
To stress a message of youth inclusion, initiatives should be transparent, respectful and accountable. To be relevant, they can link to specific concerns of youth such as unemployment, the environment or HIV and AIDS.
~ For the full guide: [UNDP, 2013, http://bit.ly/1dd2a2L]