Youth Advocacy: Whose Voices?

What does it mean for youth advocacy spaces to be meaningful rather than tokenistic? making sure information is accessible for youth is key. This type of engagement is critical for sustainable development; says Mogau Makitla.

The setting of many advocacy spaces sets youth as outliers in places that have been made to empower them. Often youth leaders walk into youth conferences and find themselves to be a thorn amongst roses. And their non-youth counterparts fill the room to the brim. For those who are lucky enough to make it into these spaces, the second challenge becomes being recognised as a partner/participant whose contributions hold equal value.

The challenges to youth advocacy.

Socio-economic inequalities have been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Collective efforts are needed to take advocacy to places it has not been able to reach thus far. Unfortunately, young activists continue to face an array of challenges when engaging with major stakeholders –including, government officials, funders and/or policy makers. Youth activists are often excluded from said spaces or their inclusion is drenched in tokenism. This denotes the type of engagement that sees youth participation as a ‘box to tick’ rather than a chance for meaningful engagement. And a time to harness the innovative ideas of younger counterparts. Often, youth contributions are disregarded or manipulated to favour the notions of their non-youth partners. This takes away from the work that is being done as youth voices are not accurately represented.

Moving away from tokenism and exclusion and towards meaningful youth engagement is one of the ways that stakeholders can increase the impact of their programs and initiatives. The prioritisation of youth voices gives the younger generation a chance to participate in their own development as well as that of their communities. This supports the sustainable development framework. Seeing that the future leaders will have already begun their work at a younger age than expected. 

How to support meaningful youth engagement?

 A good starting point, when gearing towards meaningful youth engagement is ensuring that youth are well informed – not only when it comes to the project briefs but also in terms of how and where their contributions will factor in. Collaborating with youth as partners is key. As is ensuring they have decision-making power. There is a need to meaningfully engage youth throughout the planning, implementation and evaluation stages. This provides a chance to critically engage youth through all stages of the project. It is important to ensure that information has been adapted to be youth-friendly where needed. And to prioritise capacity strengthening for youth to ensure they are able to critically engage the work.

Through the prioritisation of meaningful youth engagement, a whole new demographic is included in the conversation towards solving socio-economic crisis. Moving away from tokenism ensures a shift toward sustainable development. And a type of development that increases and maximises the impact, efficiency and overall success of programs and initiatives.

Photo by Priscilla Gyamfi on Unsplash

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Youth Advocacy: Whose Voices?

by Mogau Makitla Reading time: 2 min
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