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Youth empowerment: An overlooked area by Australia and the Pacific

By Jazmin Wright

Globally, young people find themselves in an unfavourable position, where their perceived lack of experience and knowledge can act as a ‘justification’ to exclude them from opportunities and conversations that impact them. Young people are exposed to challenging global issues at such a young age, such as increasing environmental issues and ongoing gender inequality. These are issues that the world must tackle in the coming decades to ensure an equitable and secure future. In the Pacific, over 50 percent of people are under 25 years old, meaning there is a great challenge that faces an underprepared youth. Despite these issues facing young people, they have little influence over their collective future and the world they will inherit.

To address the absence of youth participation in policy and decision-making, the United Nations Security Council adopted the Youth, Peace and Security Resolution in 2015. The resolution has the goal of shifting the current perceptions of the role of young people in peace and security matters. It also aims to give youth a much-needed voice at the decision-making table on various levels, and empower young people to participate in spaces from which they have traditionally been excluded. Providing a framework that includes young people in decision-making is a step in the right direction, however, putting the framework into practice is another challenge.

Currently, there is a lack of collaboration on issues that will impact younger generations, particularly between Australia and the Pacific. Australia’s current attitudes towards climate change, as one of the worst performing countries for climate change action, actively undermines the wellbeing of future generations in the region, increasing the Pacific Islands’ vulnerability to climate change impact. Even though there are community level opportunities, the lack of attention and value that the government places on the interests of youth weakens the impacts that young people strive to achieve.

Current leadership and political climates impede on young people’s ability to participate and contribute to a better future. In Fiji, the existence of a patriarchal culture and adult-dominated leadership structures can hinder Fijian youth’s confidence in pursuing leadership and developing their voice. Despite often being overlooked and disempowered by Australian and Pacific leaders, empowering youth by giving them spaces to participate and use their voice brings many benefits. Involving young people in decision making spaces and political processes ensure that political systems are representative, as all parts of society would be included. Similarly, including youth in these processes enables them to exercise their right to participation in decisions that impact them, as public and political participation being crucial to the advancement of human rights and social inclusion in society.

Local opportunities for young people will allow them to gain valuable experience that can enable them to build crucial skills and leadership capabilities. In March 2021, two hundred Fijian youths will participate in a National Youth Climate Action Summit, aiming to improve youth-led community initiatives and create a youth dialogue on Fiji’s Climate Change Bill. There needs to be an increased focus on preparing the youth on issues within their communities and region, with the most sustainable and effective way to ensure this is by providing sufficient support and opportunities, such as youth summits and youth activist programs, for young people to cultivate connections and skills.

Young people deserve the opportunity to act on issues that directly impact them, particularly when issues have a sense of urgency attached to them. As young people inherit the world that previous generations have left them, they should have the chance to influence positive change for their future. Within the Australia and Pacific region, youth participation and opportunities can lead to greater cross-cultural communication and connections, as the problems faced across the region can create common ground for collaboration and problem-solving.

To align with Youth, Peace and Security Resolution, Australian and the Pacific must prioritise young people’s interests and focus on giving them a voice in decision-making at local, national, and regional levels. There are two key areas that, when actively considered, can lead to youth empowerment and increased participation within the region. Firstly, developing programs that empower youth and encourage participation within local and regional communities are necessary to ensure that young people have the opportunity and space to use their voice and take action. This would promote collaboration and connections between countries and individuals within the region, which can lead to a stronger region that is ready to tackle the challenges that youth will face, such as climate change and resource insecurity. Secondly, reshaping the current perceptions of the expertise of young people and being open to youth perspectives is necessary to ensure their inclusion in spaces that directly affect them. Including young people in policies that impact them can further empower them to act on issues that matter to them, because they know that their voices will be heard.

This piece was originally published in APYD's inaugural anthology Raising Our Voices.


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