- A rights-based approach is needed to ensure youth participation in public institutions.
- Tokenism is unacceptable.
- Accountability means more than just publishing reports.
- Youth leaders must be accountable to their own constituencies, especially to marginalised young people.
- Of all of the leading priorities defined by young people, corruption seems to be the hardest to tackle.
This high-level panel discussion was divided into three parts, one each for the top three items that emerged from a youth consultation process involving 346 young people in 12 countries: participation, accountability and corruption.
The wide-ranging discussion exhibited little consensus, except on one point – favouring a rights-based approach. Young people should not have to clamour to be heard. Nor should they wait for the ‘privilege’ of being invited to the table. Instead, their participation should be mandated as a required part of the political process.
Regarding participation, first and foremost, tokenism is unacceptable. Beyond this issue, there seemed to be little agreement about the way forward. Social media could offer an important tool, though many disadvantaged youths find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Some argued that formal structures hold the key. One model could be the Council of Europe’s co-management system, under which youth participation is written into the regulations. Youth parliaments can be effective, as shown in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where a local body was able to lobby for training for teachers in a school district that was lagging behind its neighbours within the national modernisation of the educational system.
The United Nations has offered formal participation to youth in its environmental negotiations since 1992. Now that the development and environmental agendas are being fused into the process of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this opportunity has been transposed into the post-2015 debate. The space exists, but it must be used. As counter arguments to social media and formal structures, it was pointed out that many governments have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, solving nothing.
It was also noted that well-structured official youth groups habitually signed-off on policies in the old Soviet Union. This did not necessarily mean they were formally included in policymaking.
On the accountability theme, everyone seemed to agree that it is not enough for governments and international agencies to publish official documents on their websites. Other mechanisms are needed to ensure greater accountability. Accountability is hollow if reporting requirements are not accompanied by measures that allow citizens to legally challenge things they do not like.
When governments strive to evade accountability, the job of citizens or civil society groups can become very difficult. One option would be to appeal to its partners in other countries or at institutions such as the World Bank. Youth leaders also need to be accountable to their own constituencies – especially in terms of reaching out to underrepresented, marginalised people.
Non-governmental organisations can play important roles as overseers to help public institutions when the majority wants to do the right thing. For example, the Nine is Mine campaign in India is attempting to force officials to spend the legally mandated 9 % of gross domestic product on health and education.
The topic of corruption is more difficult to tackle. Even institutions that one would expect to be anti-corruption allies, such as the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund, seem to lack vigour when it comes to fighting the problem. One positive example came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the youth parliament uncovered and successfully fought the practice of selling good exam scores to students.
Rather than youths scrambling for their rights on one side and senior citizens pushing for theirs on the other, it might make sense for the two generational groups to join forces to combat age discrimination. After all, they often face the same issues. For example, younger people want their first shot at affordable housing, while their older cohorts often struggle to be allowed to stay in the places they have occupied for decades.