Young people need to be seen and heard, they are needed in public life


A new global report reveals that while nearly half of the world’s population is under the age of 30, only 2.6% of parliamentarians are under 30, less than 1% of these young deputies are women and the average age of our political leaders is 62 years.

The UN report is part of the campaign launched today by the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy for Youth, Be See, Be Heard (Make yourself seen, make yourself heard), whose main claim is that young people have a vital role to play in the decisions that affect us all. With the climate crisis, global conflicts, and generational inequities rampant, youth input, perspective, and representation are needed more than ever.

UNICEF/Sebastian Gil

With the climate crisis, global conflicts and generational inequalities on the rise, the contributions, perspectives and representation of young people are more necessary than ever, like these environmental activists and founders of Youth for Climate Argentina.

A more inclusive political sphere

The document examines the ways in which young people participate in politics today and how they contribute to our world, while questioning the bases of this exclusion. It offers recommendations for policy and legislative improvements, as well as providing a solid foundation for local advocacy efforts that seek to defend and promote the needs and rights of young people in all their diversity.

The campaign of the Office of the Youth Envoy, in collaboration with The Body Shop Internationalsearch create long-term structural changes in decision-making to be more youth-inclusive.

The publication of “Be Seen Be Heard: Understanding Youth Political Participation” serves to understand the preconceived ideas and structural barriers that prevent young people from participating in public life, along with recommendations to address these challenges for the benefit of societies around the world.

The report includes the results of the largest survey conducted by The Body Shop in December 2021, which covered 26 countries with a total of 27,043 respondents, of which more than half were under 30 years of age.

© UNICEF/Christian Aslund

Young climate activists take part in a global protest in Stockholm, Sweden.

Rejuvenate the political system

The investigation revealed that 82% of respondents agree that political systems need drastic reform to be prepared for the future.

Overall, 84% of respondents rated politicians as “interested” and 75% of respondents believe politicians are corrupt. Three-quarters of those under 30 believe that politicians and businessmen have “made things worse” for people and the planet.

Likewise, two out of three people agree that the average age represented in the policy is unbalanced. Eight out of ten people of all ages believe that the ideal age to start voting should be between 16 and 18 years old, despite the fact that in most countries in the world people start voting at 18 years of age or older .

A third of those under 30 years of age surveyed would consider running for office, while only a fifth of those over 30 contemplate it. All age groups agree that greater voice and vote representation of youth in policy development or change would improve current political systems.

“The intergenerational gap in power, influence and trust constitutes one of the greatest challenges of our time,” said Jayathma Wickramanayake, envoy of the Office for Youth, who claimed that the campaign will serve to balance the generational balance.

“Participation is a right, and the lack of representation of young people in places where decisions are made contributes to a growing mistrust of institutions and a feeling of alienation from elected leaders caused by policies that do not reflect the priorities of the people. young people, they don’t reflect their concerns, they don’t speak their language,” he said.

© UNICEF/Elwyn Jones

A young activist attends a climate action rally in Glasgow, Scotland, holding a banner calling for an end to colonialism.

structural changes

The report reflects the chronic lack of faith in political systems and the clear desire for greater youth representation. To this end, the campaign suggests a series of structural changes in political systems to improve their participation in public decision-making. Among others:

  • Lower the minimum voting age
  • Increase the formal representation of young people through youth bodies such as youth councils, parliaments or committees
  • Remove barriers to youth participation in public decision-making
  • Simplify registration for first-time voters
  • Expand youth leadership in policy development, ensuring there is a meaningful youth voice, accountable and present in key policy-making spaces

The campaign, which is based on creating a fairer world with and for young people, will take place in more than 75 countries, on six continents.

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