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Why youth participation matters? Consideration on a youth friendly event

Article by Margherita Dilucca, Generazione Lucana

More of the half of the population is under the age of 30. There are approximately 7,2  billion people on earth, out of this 7. 2; 1.4 are considered youth (14-35 age). Despite this, the percentage of representative in parliaments or in political decision making process are very low.

Roger Hart, currently Professor of Psychology and Geography at the City University of New York,  defines participation as “the process of sharing decisions which affect one’s life and the community in which one lives”.

How can we pretend civic youth engagement, if we don’t give them the tools or the spaces in order to becoming equal discussion partner?

There is a huge misconception that you can just put a young person at the table and then you have youth participation; that you can just consult with some students associations and then you have incorporated the voice of youth.

It’s crucial to recognize diversity among young people: it seems logically but is also easily forgotten. Listening to the voice of young people means listening to young people in an intersectional way, which therefore takes into account minorities and differences among people. Young people include not only people who are between the ages of 14 and 35, but also people with different histories, with different backgrounds, with different genders and sexual orientations, people with disabilities, and so on.

Talking about youth means also talking about privilege: for example only small percentage of young people have the opportunity to go to university, and even fewer to prestigious ones.

Education is important, but it is often not within everyone’s reach, for different reasons. For this, formal education is often a privilege. It is necessary to be inclusive and give equal importance to experiences other than formal education, such as volunteering, associationism or expertise in a particular field.

In this case we need to start recognize that knowledge does not include only formal education but also experience. In general, going back to the original speech, we need to start recognize true youth participation and how to increase it.

In order to do it, the ladder of participation, a scheme that we used in the Chlaydoscope online training course too, can be a useful tool.

This scheme aims to distinguish the roles that young people play within decision-making processes and events: from the absence of a role, as in the case of manipulation, decoration, or show; to decision-making in partnership with adults; through involvement, consultation, and initiative.

It can be useful for youth, trainers, learner, youth worker, institutions and associations: it helps to evaluate and reflect on every activity that has been organized or participated in; and especially to design events, projects and processes that are truly youth friendly.

There is not a chronological order in this ladder, but more an intersection of space, conditions and opportunity that make an event more or less youth friendly. Every aspect of an event or project determines its outcomes because every aspect plays its role: space is essential for meeting and create relationship between people, opportunity is crucial for understanding ourself, support is important for make the difference in terms of impact, means are the key to remove barriers, rights are the fundamental reasons why people have to be included in decisions making. These and other aspects do not only play a key role separately but also in the intersections that these create: this intersection produces a certain type of participation.

A youth friendly project or  event should include all the people (and their particular stories, backgrounds and characteristics) in every step and area. It’s not easy, we know, but youth participation is the key.

Think of all the independently organized protests for the climate crisis, or the Black Lives Matters Movement, or the feminist protests against oppression in Afghanistan: valuing these young people, their experiences, their talents, their voices is not only necessary , but it can’t be no longer postponed.

In order to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership, we need every single person, young people included.

Only if we work together, we can reach sustainable and happy future. And together also mean including youth. If we want to move forward, we need to life no one behind.

For the young people who are reading this: changing the word does not start with the world, it starts with you; and yes you might not have the power and sometimes the road ahead seem difficult, or  even impossible. But choose to go on anyway: changing ourself is changing the world.

Participation is a process and like every process, participation need trust, time, commitment and creativity. There’s not a manual, but you can find here a community of people that are struggling with that and are happy to be there for you.

Each community is made up of different people: participating,  knowing your talent and the talent of people around you, and how they can relate to each other’s creates a creative and stimulating space where new connections can be made and… turn the light on!


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