Why Young People Don't Participate in Politics

This Monday’s UN High-level Meeting on Youth was filled with flowery rhetoric from several distinguished commentators. 

The speakers at the conference essentially aimed to highlight the importance of bridging the divide between the world’s youth and the often older officials who run political institutions. While many of the statements were repetitive and vague, the general sentiment at the root of the meeting — the importance of inclusion — was healthy. Attendants were mainly officials from governments across the world, members of the press, and members of political organizations and advocacy groups.

After Monday’s second thematic panel discussion on “Challenges to Youth Development,” I caught up with four attendees and asked each of them the following question:

Given the information presented in the panel discussion, what do you think the greatest obstacle to getting young people involved in politics is?

Matt Maiorana, SustainUS Policy Co-Coordinator

“Based on what I heard in the General Assembly, the most difficult obstacle to youth engagement in politics would probably be access to information. This is especially true for youth in developing countries where technology isn’t readily available and finances are extremely limited. It’s really difficult for rural youth and disabled youth and those who are marginalized in their societies to even know that these events are happening or get involved in national politics.”

[Note: SustainUS is an environmentally conscious, U.S.-based advocacy group that promotes sustainable development.]

Jan-Argy Tolentino, President of Young Liberals and Democrats of Asia

“I think the biggest obstacle is the apathy of the youth. In the world we are the majority, right? But, the majority of young people in the world are not really interested in politics. One reason could be they think that the change they want could not be brought on by politics. Through history we can see that political transitions are created by the young people. We can see this in the Philippines, Indonesia, or in the Middle East. But after that, what happens next? They feel that all the efforts that they put forth are useless because politics becomes cyclical. Traditional politicians will eventually return to power. Young people feel tired of this cyclical system.”

Khuzaima Mohammed Osman, Executive Secretary of the Ghanaian Sonsetfund

“The old have a tradition of seeing the youth as not mature enough to make the decisions that will run a country. This is very wrong. Things are changing. One thing that I’ve realized, coming out of this panel discussion, is that young people need participation and engagement in national youth policies and their implementation.”

[Note: The Sonsetfund is an education trust fund aimed at steering young Ghanaians towards leadership and entrepreneurship started by the Chief Imam of Ghana.]

Karina Chupina, President of the International Federation of Hard of Hearing Young People

“On the one hand it’s skepticism; it’s a lack of trust in the political culture and also the lack of belief that young people would be listened to. Skepticism leads to a lack of motivation, and so on. Also in some countries, there is a very strict organizational hierarchy. When young people attempt to enter these organizations, they sometimes do not feel that they can have any influence [in the] decision making process. Another obstacle is a lack of information. Sometimes young people do not have information on how they can participate in decision making. In the case of people with disabilities, like hard of hearing people, there is low self-esteem because of a fear that they will not be accepted in mainstream organization. In many cases, there simply aren’t proper facilities available to young people with disabilities to help them access relevant information.”

Photo CreditTheone guy