Image: Unsplash/Lewis Parsons
New York: To support young people’s political participation and amplify their voices in public life, the UN launched a campaign on Wednesday in collaboration with the Youth Envoy.
“The intergenerational gap in power, influence and trust constitutes one of the biggest challenges of our time”, said UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake.
The Be Seen, Be Heard campaign, which partners with The Body Shop International, seeks to create long-term structural changes that foster the inclusion of youth in decision-making.
“With the climate crisis, global conflict and generational inequalities running rampant, the inputs, perspectives and representation of youth are needed more than ever”, the press release reads.
The campaign seeks to raise the voice of millions of young people in over 75 countries across six continents.
Leaders ‘messed things up’ for the planet
To understand preconceptions and structural barriers preventing young people from participating in public life, the Be Seen Be Heard: Understanding young people’s political participation report, also released on Wednesday, not only presents a snapshot but makes recommendations to address these challenges.
The report supports the fact that there is a chronic lack of faith in political systems but a clear appetite for more youth representation from all age groups.
It details that 82 per cent of people around the world think the political system needs drastic reform to be fit for the future, and nearly 70 per cent feel that young people should have more say.
Three quarters of those under age 30 feel that politicians and business leaders have ‘messed things up’ for people and the planet and are ready for change.
Moreover, two in three people also disagree with the age balance in politics and 8 in 10 uphold that the ideal first-time voting age should be 16 to 18 – even though most countries restrict it to 18 or over.
Recent data shows that although almost half the world’s population is under 30, they make up only 2.62 per cent of global parliamentarians and that the average age of a world leader is 62.
Youth participation is key
Ms. Wickramanayake underlined the importance of including youth in the decision-making to fight the mistrust towards political institutions and alienation from elected leaders.
“As young people have made abundantly clear through their activism on the streets, in civil society and on social media, they care deeply about the transformational change needed to create more equal, just and sustainable societies,” she said.
The campaign is an opportunity to change and move towards policies that “reflect the priorities of youth, mirror their concerns, and speak their language”.
Optimism for a better future
According to the survey – which covered 26 countries with 27,043 respondents in total, over half of whom were under age 30 – 67 per cent believe in a better future, with 15 to 17-year-olds most optimistic.
And more than two-thirds agree that political systems would be better if there were more opportunities for younger people to have a say in policy development and change.
This campaign recognizes at its core that young people have a vital role to play in the decisions that affect us all.
“As escalating global conflict, the ongoing climate crisis and worsening socio-economic issues continue to plague our world, we increasingly need fresh perspectives to guide transformative political decision-making the breaks beyond the status quo”, the press release adds.
According to the Youth Envoy, young people’s participation in public decision-making could be improved long-term by lowering voting ages; increasing formal youth representation through youth councils, parliaments, or committees; removing barriers for young people to participate in public decision-making; simplifying first-time voter registration; and improving young people’s leadership skills.
The collaboration between the Youth Envoy’s office and The Body Shop means that young people and others will have many routes to participate in the campaign, which will run until mid-2025 in 2,600 stores.
Local campaign activities will also include partnerships with youth-led or youth-focused non-governmental organizations (NGOs), petition opportunities and other actions.