“Young people are the future” and other nonsense
I cringe every time I hear that self-patronizing statement. Ever so often, well-meaning people get up on stage and utter these revered words , ” Friends, young people are the future, they are the future leaders of this nation”. Now many variations of this same speech exists, but for each one of them, my response would be the same : bullshit.
You see sir (or madam), young people are not the future, we are very much the present. In the future, we will not be young, we will be old, like you. I wish I could tell that to them, but often the costs of such heroics are not worth the benefits. So instead, most of us learn how to smile and nod in agreement.
This reveals, quite aptly how “adults” and adult-based organizations (both in the state and in the civil society) view youth participation and youth-led development. For most of these organizations youth participation is some sort of a charity project. There is a tendency to think of young people as a “problem group” (an attitude which some of us identified in the plagiarized youth policy of Sri Lanka), a group that needs to be “included” because otherwise, they might resort to violence. This results in tokenism, engaging in “youth consultations” purely for appeasement, symbolism and in the case of civil society, often only to fulfill criteria imposed by donor organizations (youth consultations – check).
The bottom line is, there is a lack of understanding of what meaningful youth participation in policymaking means, from all quarters, including young people themselves. There is a tendency of some young people (and youth organizations around the world) to engage in group-lobbying to say, get concessionary bus fares, or air fares by governments. This I feel undermines the case for youth participation and feeds into this altruist attitude towards youth involvement.
Some of these issues were raised at the recent Commonwealth Youth Ministers meeting held in Colombo, where some BB-ites were invited to speak in a forum with the youth caucus representatives from the commonwealth (an organization which has an excellent youth program).
In the forum, a question was raised about the youth-quota which was one of the recommendations that actually got implemented from the 1990 youth commission report, which among other things, recommended that nomination lists for all political parties contesting for local council elections must allocate 40% of those places for candidates aged between 18 and 35.
Personally, I’m against quota systems. Not only because I think it reinforces the sympathetic attitude for youth participation I complained of earlier, but also due to my other larger political convictions, which I will not discuss here. The failure of the quota policy to spawn meaningful youth participation, the quotas are often “filled” by sons, nephews of politicians and the debacle involving the rejection of Sri Lanka’s major opposition party’s nominations list for the Colombo Municipal Council elections (due to the presence of a candidate under the age of 18), vividly demonstrates the seriousness with which political parties approach the youth-quota mandate and the youth participation in general.
Another part of this story is that, thanks to economic liberalization, the role of the state has become less and less important. This means that young people do not look to the state as the only way in which they can create opportunities for themselves, which has made the threat of “youth uprisings” extremely unlikely. This means that youth-participation is no longer in the exclusive domain of “state responsibilities” and instead is a more of a broad phenomenon which needs to be appreciated by a range of actors both within and outside government, which includes NGOs, educational institutes, corporates and other civil society actors.
This brings to be my concluding point, which is this : I don’t think we need major institutional changes to make youth participation ‘work’.’in fact, I feel what is required more than anything is an attitudinal change towards youth participation and learned perspectives on youth involvement, and youth-led development by both state and non-state actors which will allow them to properly create processes by which youth participation can be a meaningful and a mutually beneficial exercise.
— Deane Jayamanne
Posted on 06/04/2008, in Opinions, Sri Lanka, Youth-Culture-Society and tagged Beyond Borders, commonwealth, liberalization, NGO, Sri Lanka, Youth, youth involvement, Youth Participation, Youth Policy, youth quota, youth uprising, Youth-led development. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.