Political participation: overview and faced challenges
“Where few take part in decisions there is little democracy; the more participation there is in decisions, the more democracy there is” (Verba & Nie, 1972). The present statement proves that the political presence of different individuals has a huge impact on democracy and policy. Hence, the present article will attempt to tackle the political participation of youth in the field of politics.
- Table of contents
- What is youth political participation?
- Must the youth participate in politics?
- Obstacles to youth participation
- Meaningful political participation
- So, what is the role of youth in politics after all?
What is youth political participation?
Political participation refers to “those voluntary activities by which members of a society share in the selection of rulers and, directly or indirectly, in the formation of public policy” (McClosky, 1968). In other words, it encompasses citizens’ activities that affect politics in general. These participatory activities include voting, demonstrating, contacting public officials, boycotting, attending party rallies, guerrilla gardening, posting blogs, volunteering, joining flash mobs, signing petitions, buying fair-trade products, and even suicide protests (Jan W. van, 2021). According to Weiss (2020), even though “existing definitions of political participation are adequate to capture youth participation; the current literature is inconsistent in the inclusion of new modes of participation that are increasingly common among young adults.” In the same vein, Dan Maxon believes that in the youth field, political participation is used loosely to indicate activities, phenomena, and practices. He also points out that some forms of participation have a limited impact on policy-making such as youth activism and youth social action; the alternative use of public spaces; and political memes and online political debates. The latter forms of participation can take place away from political institutions, which makes political participation a challenging term to define. Apparently, almost every activity by some citizens somehow can be understood sometimes as a form of political participation (van Deth, 2001).
Must the youth participate in politics?
Youth constitute a large portion of the population in every community. Consequently, it is imperative to give them a voice and include them in political decision-making. Not only is inclusiveness “a fundamental political and democratic right” but it is also “crucial to building stable and peaceful societies and developing policies that respond to the specific needs of younger generations.”(Goudie et al, 2018).
According to the OECD’s guide, many benefits can come from “putting youth at the heart of the government’s strategies and initiatives”:
- Taking advantage of the demographic transition: the youth represent a large portion of the population, which means that their participation can have a great impact on the balance of power. As a result, empowering the youth to take action socially, economically, and politically is of great importance.
- Encouraging innovation and economic development: youth is a great source of innovative and original ideas. Hence, engaging them and encouraging their active participation can boost the development of societies.
- Building active citizenship: only through taking on the duty to make important decisions will the youth understand how crucial their role is. When policymakers address their needs and demands, civic behaviour is strengthened and trust and transparency are promoted between the government and the citizens.
- Encouraging an online debate: living in a digital age, and understanding how technology works are useful to improve youth interaction and engagement.
Bárta (2021) points out that there are four main aims of youth political participation:
- Right-based aims: youth actually have access to mechanisms that enable them to participate effectively.
- Empowerment aims: youth speak their minds and express themselves freely regarding decision-making and political processes.
- Efficiency aims: allow the youth to develop informed processes and regulations.
- Developmental aims: enable the youth to acquire the necessary skills and competencies to become efficient actors.
It is safe to conclude that supporting the acquisition of commitment and participation from an early age through the reinforcement of civic education and citizenship as well as community involvement is very important.
Obstacles to youth in politics
According to The ACE Electoral Knowledge Network website, youth political engagement occurs at several levels and in various contexts, namely on structural, individual, and organizational levels:
On the structural level, the following elements are included: age requirements to vote or run for office, age restriction in campaigning in some countries, lack of political finance, Social and cultural traditions, and women’s discrimination based on their age and gender.
On the individual level, there exists Distrust in political institutions, a sack of confidence and trust in EMBs, lack of access to/knowledge about political processes, and social and economic exclusion/marginalization.
On the organizational level, there is limited data on youth political participation and a lack of an exclusive EMB youth policy and sustainable funding.
Meaningful political participation
Also referred to as ‘effective practice or participation’, meaningful political participation is a concept with many definitions across the literature. However, the following aspects are common in most definitions according to Bárta et al (2021):
Information and communication: in order to achieve favourable results, young people should have access to the latest information at all times. This fosters their knowledge and hones their awareness about different matters. The implementation of youth-focused conferences, workshops and other capacity-building formats can also facilitate a great deal achieve meaningful political participation.
Authority and voice: giving young people the authority to express their ideas and thoughts publicly is not enough. Other stakeholders in political involvement procedures must also hear and respect their voices.
Power sharing: young people should also have the opportunity where they can actively participate in decision-making processes alongside stakeholders. This obviously should be executed in a transparent environment to attain efficiency.
Transparency and accountability: these elements are imperative to achieve meaningful participation. Young people should be fully briefed on the procedures and mechanisms that are taking place and affecting them. They should be aware of the roles they play, as well as the other players that are engaged and in what capacity.
Material and non-material support: no matter what their background, status, gender, or identity, young people should be able to participate freely and safely. They should also feel welcomed and appreciated during their political activities. Stakeholders should also recognise their efforts and engage them.
So, what is the role of youth in politics after all?
According to the Palestinian News and Info Agency (Wafa), conforming to democratic standards, young people are to fulfil their role in politics as follows:
- Strengthening the collective spirit between the youth to value the teamwork experience.
- Selecting experienced youth with qualified competencies, such as modern management methods.
- Enhancing a sense of belonging in young people to render them conscious of regulations and laws.
- Encouraging initiatives among young people by unleashing their energies to get creative and innovative results. Awarding them can be a great incentive too.
- Pushing young people to open up to other cultures through meetings with youth organizations in different countries, will promote relations of solidarity and cooperation between nations as an alternative to war and aggression tendencies.
- Enhancing the role of youth in public service through volunteering in different sectors to have a better understanding of their communities.
- Discovering and adopting the different talents and potentials of young people by giving them opportunities to give, innovate and develop in various practical, scientific, artistic and other fields. Investing in their capacities would have many benefits in the future
- Promoting the values of tolerance, goodwill, and acceptance of the “other” from a position of difference and acknowledging their existence.
- Supporting the plurality of ideas and convictions in society as part of the values and principles of democracy creates a safety valve for the promotion of the general community and the official political environment.
To conclude, creating a legitimate, accountable, democratic system requires parity of the political presence of its members. The more all parties in society are involved in the political aspects, the more the country will strive. Young people, who make up an important party usually in countries, play a huge role in the future of politics. Not only do they come up with innovative solutions, but also one can notice a number of positive outcomes such as enhanced social skills, better conduct, higher academic performance, higher self-esteem, and higher self-efficacy. As a result, it is time for decision-makers to act in order to involve the youth in policy-making, enabling them to participate meaningfully.
Bárta, O. et al (2021). Meaningful Youth Political Participation In Europe: Concepts, Patterns And Policy Implications. Council of Europe and European Commission.
Faire Participer Les Jeunes Au Gouvernement Ouvert. Guide de communication. OCDE.
- Jan W. van Deth. (2021). What is political participation?
- Weiss, J. (2020). What Is Youth Political Participation? Literature Review on Youth Political Participation and Political Attitudes
- Young people’s role in the process of societal change. Link: https://info.wafa.ps/ar_page.aspx?id=3202
- Youth, Political Participation and Decision-Making. The United Nations.