December 2, 2016  |  

Mind the Gap

How do we bring young people into the democratic process in a meaningful way?

On the 21st and 22nd of November the first Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law took place at the United Nations here in Geneva. It brought together, government representatives, youth delegates, young activists and representation from various NGO’s from all over the world to discuss how we can work together to have the youth voice better represented in the democratic space.

I found the 2 day event incredibly inspiring. After returning from 2 weeks at Camp Climate where I was surrounded by passionate, dedicated, intelligent young people fighting for climate justice I was already feeling inspired and motivated by the views and knowledge that people had shared with me in Morocco so to have the opportunity to continue to be inspired was really great! (This whole staff placement thing is really an incredible opportunity – if you are reading this blog you should definitely look into the World YMCA staff placement programme!)

In the first discussion of the conference, a statement was made that really stuck with me;

“A change of narrative in the democratic space needs to happen so the concerns of young people are no longer referred to as ‘youth issues’ but instead what we are currently calling issues should be viewed as rights.”

What followed this statement was a discussion about the challenge of supporting youth rights if we are continually labelling what should be viewed as access to basic human rights as ‘issues’. The panel discussing this topic regularly came back to the idea that the world needs to stop ignoring the major pockets of potential within the youth community. This would be easier if the stigmas that have been attached to young people were removed which would result in the evolution of a more inclusive society and a society that will be free to grow and flourish with less barriers getting in the way.

In so many areas in society young people are considered leaders, one of the few societal spaces that seems to have not caught up with the idea of young people being leaders now instead of ‘future leaders’ is in the political arena. More than ½ of the World’s population are under the age of 30 yet globally only around 2% of political decision makers are young people.

For this to change the World needs to start viewing youth participation as a right. Consultation is not enough, governments or international decision making bodies like the UN need to lead the way and start viewing young people as vital contributors in the political system.

During the plenary discussion the term ‘mind the gap’ was used multiple times as an analogy for the lack of connection between young activists and young politicians and older members of the political system. This ‘gap’ is what is slowing progress down, for effective youth participation and a movement towards gaining a legal framework on youth rights the gap dividing the youth and the more experienced in the political system needs to change. How this gap is closed is a challenge without a simple answer but what is clear is that the gap needs to be closed from both sides. This challenge requires young people to become more actively involved in politics and it requires political systems to change to improve accessibility.

I do not know that I have any answers just yet on what the practical solutions to closing the ‘gap’ are but what I am sure of is that the YMCA is in a fantastic position to be able to lead the way in providing innovative solutions to the challenges of youth participation in the democratic space.

For me personally being able to experience a conference like that in the UN with young people from all over the world was something I won’t forget, it has encouraged a personal drive review how I am participating in the democratic space and it has ignited a passion to contribute to helping the YMCA movement find a way to support more meaningful youth participation. Id 2 days at the UN can do that for me imagine what the YMCA movement and the World could achieve if we found a way to make these conferences and discussions accessible to all young people!


By Cassandra Troman, New Zealand

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