Involving youth in politics

By Rebecca Smith | 2016

Last week, the foreign ministers of 57 states met in Hamburg to talk about current security concerns and how to respond to them. The occasion was the Ministerial Council, the main decision-making and governing body of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an intergovernmental organization advancing security from politico-military, economic and environmental, and human perspectives. Both at the level of the OSCE and the United Nations, the representation and participation of youth is being recognized as an important contributor to security. As chairmanship-in-office of the OSCE for 2016 and in continuation with previous chairmanships-in-office, Germany has made youth a priority. 

How can youth participate in security policy, and why is it important?

To answer this question, the OSCE Special Representatives on Youth and Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation of Spain organized a side event during this Ministerial Council. Representatives from foreign ministries, the OSCE secretariat and field missions, and civil society shared their experiences on this question, and agreed on several points. Youth plays a key role in fighting violent extremism, an idea given institutional support by the statements of foreign ministers and the OSCE Secretary General. Youth should be involved in policy development and decision-making. Indeed, youth should be seen as actors rather than subjects in the political process.

Youth engagement: education, creativity and technology

During this event I was able to present my experience from the European Youth Parliament, a non-formal education organization which brings together young people from all over Europe to discuss current topics in a parliamentary setting. It shows that youth are not only willing to engage in complex current political issues, but can reach a consensus and defend their ideas, thus making them potential active participants when given platforms of discussion. Another great example involving education, technology and youth as actors is the “Peer-2-Peer: Challenging Extremism (P2P)” initiative, in which students from around the world, through a project integrated within their university curriculum, develop a digital initiative to educate and empower their communities to fight violent extremism. The top three teams in the initiative’s global competition presented their projects during the Ministerial Council in Hamburg, all three showing creativity and the power of technology to involve youth and challenge extremism. 

With technology being increasingly present, so does its potential for making participation possible, through discussion platforms, communication and outreach, among others. It is heartening to see an increasing recognition of youth as active participants, not only in spreading security, but also in developing policy.

Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith holds a B.A. in Sustainable Development with departmental honors from Columbia University (New York) and an M.A. in Political Science from Central European University (Budapest). She is bilingual in French and English, and has lived in France, the United States, Hungary and Spain. She has collaborated in climate change and sustainable development projects in the United States, Madagascar and Ghana, and non-formal political education in the European Youth Parliament about a variety of topics relevant to Europe, including the circular economy.

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