As the largest demographic on the globe today, young people are a generation that will reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of the current choices made in society. It is therefore important for young people to take a leading role in policy change and development as they have the power to make a real lasting effect on the world.
At a global level young people were consulted in creating targets for the sustainable development goals (SDGs). According to Chapter 2, Section 20 of the Zimbabwean constitution, the State and all government institutions are responsible to ensure that young people between the ages of 15 to 35 have access to appropriate education and opportunities for empowerment. In 2012, the census revealed that 77 percent of the population of Zimbabwe consists of young people below the age of 35. Young people are therefore a key group for sustainable development, however, they rarely receive the education or support needed to feel confident speaking out to influence policy.
The right to be heard for young people is just and necessary. Youth engagement in development issues still doesn’t match population statistics. When asked, young people say they feel neglected in the policy process.
Why is there a lack of youth engagement in policy making?
My observation is that young people don’t have access to information or the right support to participate in decision making. They are therefore neglected in the developmental processes that take place in their communities. Training sessions with an aim to equip young people in social accountability and awareness on civil rights are often unpopular in communities when compared to food handouts. Without financial independence and basic needs to live a fulfilled and decent life, young people won’t be in a position to take part in significant policymaking.
Young people need a change of mindset so that they realise the potential of using their voice. Young people have the power to make sustainable development a reality if they take leading role. A generation of information seekers will take us further than we can ever imagine.
By Valerie Chereni, a Restless Development staff member in Zimbabwe who is leading a project called ‘Enhancing Youth Participation in Civic Spaces’. The project aims to train young people on how to use their voices to make change in their communities.