Youth Civic Engagement to catalyze change?
By Sabá Loftus, Youth Advocate
This year’s International Youth Day focuses on promoting “Youth Civic Engagement.”
Young people need to be treated like citizens today to be active in the future. Civic engagement takes many forms but generally involves taking a few moments to look outside yourself and your circle to contribute to your community. It can include efforts to directly address an issue that you think is important such as highlighting injustice or starting a campaign in your school to prevent littering or increase recycling. This could mean volunteering for a cause you care about or starting discussions with friends to highlight issues you think are overlooked or important. Alternatively, it could include joining an organization to partner with your community to solve a problems.
As a global community, we know what the problems are and attempts have been made at many levels to start implementing the solutions. Scientists have shown that four of the nine planetary boundaries have been crossed and including two “core boundaries” -- climate change and biosphere integrity. Our global population exceeds 7 billion and approximately 1.8 billion are between 10 to 24 years old . It is so easy to feel defeated if you look at the size of the problems that face the humanity (ranging from the rising sea level to access to basic human rights). It is easy to feel like there is nothing you can do to challenge injustice in society or take action to conserve our finite resources.
Governments are working towards Sustainable Development with the Post-2015 Development Agenda to be adopted in September. Yet questions remain on how to implement the changes needed to achieve the goals and targets we are setting ourselves. Young people have the best understanding of the realities they face in their own lives and are experts on their own communities. This could potentially be an invaluable contribution towards acting on preventing duplication while building ownership.
International Youth Day could kick-start discussions globally around the contributions that young people can and are making. Young people are among the most vulnerable to the challenges our societies face such as natural disasters, conflict and inequality. This generation will experience the repercussions of treating our planet like there are no limits. But young people have already proven that they have the tools needed to highlight gaps and hold their governments accountable. Active youth have huge potential to be a powerful voice and driver of change. This can be an apathetic disenfranchised demographic or the dynamic push that is needed to overcome the inequalities and challenges.
Currently 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty and deprivation. Simultaneously, we have one of the largest youth populations with 9 out of 10 young people (89%) living in less developed countries. If governments could mobilize these young people they could be a powerful resource.
However, youth around the world face significant obstacles to participation ranging from inequality to societal attitudes regardless of their income, background, education or geopolitical location. For girls, the barriers to participation are even higher. At the moment, 175 million young people in low-income countries cannot read a full sentence. 1 in 4 children in the United States of America grow up without learning how to read. Among those aged 15-24, some 500 million live on less than $2 a day, and over 74 million are unemployed. Inequalities, poverty and injustice will continue unless young people become part of the solution.
International Youth Day is an opportunity to focus on hope, empowerment, action and the positive changes that we can achieve together in our communities and globally. To have a future we all need and want – action is needed by, for and with youth. Youth no longer have the luxury of being token faces in photos or providing diversity by sitting in promotional ceremonies or conferences. It is time to take on the roles of leaders, catalysts and change makers to build w sustainable and equitable society.
But as the generation that is currently impacted by the negative trends of the past, empowered by an ambitious Post-2015 development agenda and facilitated by a surge in numbers -- we can be the generation to reverse the negative patterns caused as a consequence of unsustainable over consumption. It is not too late for our environment or planet.
The United Nations System-Wide Action Plan on Youth (Youth-SWAP), seeks to promote young people’s effective inclusive civic engagement at all levels. There has been recent increasing attention and policy and programming focus on youth civic engagement by governments, UN entities, regional and multilateral organizations, CSOs, youth and researchers.