Do you participate? Are you politically active? Do you strive to make a change in society? Are you aware of the issues faced by youth and if you are, what do you do to solve these issues?

These are question you must ask yourself. These are questions put forth by the International Youth Day which fell on August 12. The theme for the year was ‘youth civic engagement’ and although the day has passed, it isn’t too late to engage and participate.

Participation and engagement isn’t difficult to understand. Either as an individual or as part of an organization you can participate. Why is youth participation important?

The future is ours. The changes made today will greatly affect the country Sri Lanka will be tomorrow. If we fight for social equality today, tomorrow, society will treat all equally. We can say it is tomorrow that belongs to us and not make any changes to the present. However, without change today, there won’t be change tomorrow.

“The engagement and participation of youth is essential to achieve sustainable human development. Yet often the opportunities for youth to engage politically, economically and socially are low or non-existent.””

There are issues that affect the youth specifically. This could be regarding higher education or employment. Two weeks ago, satyagraha at the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) was brought to an end after 227 days. This wasn’t because the student activists gave up. They couldn’t be silenced and they continued the satyagraha until their demands were met. This is youth participation.

Young students spent hours in the hut, demanding for a reduction of student fees. What if these students had felt they need not participate in the protest? What if they didn’t see it as necessary?

If the students had given up after a few days, their struggle would have been fruitless. The semester fee wouldn’t have been reduced and the students would find it harder and harder to pay their fees. They would give up on their dreams of higher education and would drop out of university. Is this a situation the youth needs?

Instead the students worked hard and managed to fight until their demands were met. It was due to each student’s participation that the OUSL students were able to take down the hut with pride.

Thus it is clear how important youth participation is. We must then ask what stops the youth from engaging.

The opportunities to participate are often limited. Organizations often have their own motives which one may not agree with. Time is also a barrier as it is difficult to participate while studying or working. Youth oppression also continues to be a problem.

Although we may not realize it and although it may not be obvious, the youth is oppressed in various ways. This could be in a legal sense or social norms.

Issues like poverty, which can be solved through youth engagement, also stop youth from participating. Thus it is important that the youth is strengthened and through this, they will be able to participate and engage. This in turn would lead to change, whether it’s political, social or economical, the country needs.

So don’t hesitate to participate. Don’t hesitate to join others to change the current situation youth faces. And even if no one else participates, know that you, as an individual, can make an impact.

•    Globally, young people are not at the center of political decision-making even though almost half the world’s population is under 30 years old. (UNDP)

•    The average age in parliament in 53 years old. (UNDP)

•    Only 1.65% of parliamentarians around the world are in their 20s and for a third of countries, eligibility for national parliament starts at 25 years old. (UNDP)

•    2 out of 3 countries DO NOT consult young people as a part of the process of preparing poverty reduction strategies or national development plans. (The Global Youth Call ‘Prioritizing Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda’)

•    Youth are underrepresented in formal political institutions, yet political decisions impact their lives and choices. (UNDP)

•    Voter turnout among 18-25 year olds continues to be lower than other age groups and youth are less likely to join political parties. (UNDP
•    People under 35 are rarely found in formal political leadership positions. Young women are even more excluded. (UNDP)

•    Only 1 in 5 parliamentarians is female. (UN Women)

•    Only 21.8% of national parliamentarians were female as of July 1, 2014, a slow increase from 11.3% in 1995.
(UN Women)

•    As of January 2014, 9 women served as Heads of State and 15 served as Heads of Government. (UN Women)

•    Globally, there are 38 States in which women account for less than 10% of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of January 2014.
(UN Women)