Youth Engagement for a Sustainable Tomorrow
On Wednesday, August 12th, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) interns participated in the United Nations’ International Youth Day. The theme of this year’s event was Youth Civic Engagement, where youth engagement vis a vis the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was both championed and celebrated.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon began the opening session with a call to action for youth worldwide. Referring to the current 15- to 24-year-old demographic as the “SDG generation,” he implored youth to become “torchbearers of sustainable development.” Mr. Ban acknowledged that today’s youth are impacted by all of the new SDGs, speaking about the importance of utilizing them both within and as partners to the UN in advancing these goals to create a better world.
According to the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth data, half of world’s population is under 30 years old yet the average age in parliaments is 53 years, with only 1.65% in their 20s. Looking at this data, wouldn’t it make sense to have a more youthful group engaged in the parliament process, as they are the best representatives of their own generation?
Youth also make up 17% of the global population and 25% of the total working age population. However, 40% of youth are unemployed. How is it that youth, known to be innovators and problem-solvers, have such a high level of unemployment? Ban Ki-moon addressed these startling numbers, saying, “Young people are not simply accepting this as their fate. They are rising up to challenge power structures… speaking out for justice and human rights… and advocating global action for people and the planet.” Other panelists and speakers reiterated Mr. Ban’s message throughout the rest of the event: Youth are the solution for our future.
Following Ban Ki-moon’s address was a panel focused on youth participation in politics—namely in election processes. As Unitarian Universalists, we place great value on the democratic process and the belief that all voices should be heard equally. It is important in political spheres around the world for all perspectives to be represented, including those of youth. This panel featured distinguished youth and adults from around the world who work with peers to assist in the implementation, follow-up, and review of the SDGs to be adopted this September.
Notably, Adrian Alfred, a founding member and steering committee member of the Guyana National Youth Council (GNYC), discussed the low numbers of youth voters in Guyana. The GNYC, in partnership with several local organizations and the Guyana Elections Commission, began the “Vote Like a Boss” voting education campaign in early 2015. The name was catchy and familiar, as it was based off of a popular song in Guyana at the time.
Through creative community outreach tactics like public service announcements, the “Vote Like a Boss” campaign encouraged youth to educate themselves on candidates and electoral processes. By doing so, youth make themselves more inclined to vote, and more likely to vote for who they believe is the best candidate rather than who their peers encourage them to vote for, or the incumbent.
As social media has become embedded in the lives of youth, the GNYC utilized Twitter and Facebook for their “Vote Like a Boss” campaign. Using the hashtag #VoteLikeABoss, the GNYC created as a social incentive to vote, allowing youth to share when they’d voted and encouraged their friends to do the same.
Similarly, the GNYC held the “Selfie With Your ‘Inky’” contest, in which youth posted pictures of their recently inked fingers from voting stations on social media to win prizes. Outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have been key in starting social movements around the world, so it is fitting that youth organizers use it to challenge their government in Guyana.
Many Unitarian Universalist congregations work hard to empower youth through leadership in youth groups and in the congregation at large, teaching these young UUs the importance of voting.
It was deeply inspiring to hear about the GNYC’s efforts to involve youth in the voting process at this year’s International Youth Day; a particular highlight was exploring the incredible untapped potential that youth hold — individually and collectively — when empowered to become engaged today in the very political processes that will have ramifications on all of our tomorrows.Click here to read the post on the UUA International Office blog.