It’s International Youth Day on the 12th of August. Madagascar-based NGO Youth First, a member of MenEngage Africa Youth, reflects on the state of youth in 2020 as the world observes this annual commemoration in the two questions we posed below.
QUESTION: The theme for this year’s International Youth Day is “Youth Engagement for Global Action”. What are your thoughts around youth engagement for the world’s development – why is it important?
ANSWER: Although youth represents a majority of the world’s population, many challenges still hinder the active participation of young people, both locally and globally. At the same time, the whole world has high expectations for youth. We have been told for too long that we are “tomorrow’s leaders”, which had two effects: On one hand, young people tend to step down waiting for that tomorrow. On the other hand, existing leaders use that as an opportunity to diminish youth’s voices and opinions. Yet, this young population can definitely serve as a “demographic bonus” if there is investment in youth development that really empowers young people to take on today’s world challenges. The good news is that things are positively changing. Leaders of tomorrow are becoming leaders of today. Young activists from all around the world, such as Vanessa Nakate and Zulaikha Patel, have proved why we cannot afford to ignore them anymore: The youth’s voice is too powerful and is the key to social change.
QUESTION: Young people in many parts of the world believe they are not adequately engaged on development issues. What is the experience in your own country – and what needs to be done to ensure that the youth are taken into account, seen and heard?
ANSWER: In a society that values and is used to put the elderly at the top of the hierarchy like Madagascar does, youth participation is often questioned. But today’s Malagasy youth is definitely committed to challenge this ongoing clash between our culture and globalisation in a way the country and the world would benefit from it – from online activism to working or volunteering in different organisations, youth has taken a step ahead to force the older generations to consider their voice and opinion.
So, to be taken into account, we – young people – all need to consider ourselves as true potential game changers, if we are not already. To be seen, we need to operate more in public or help our peers so that we are all seen at the end. To be heard, we need to speak up and be strategic about it. Now more than ever, we have the tools and the platforms to be considered, seen and heard. We should not only express ourselves but positively influence each other to do so.
However, youth still needs to be supported along that journey. And within NGO Youth First, we believe that investing in youth means giving young women and men the ability and capacity to learn, acquire, to practice and to speak up, which are exactly the main pillars of our work in Madagascar: empowering young people to take actions, equipping them with skills, and making their voices heard through advocacy actions in order for them to be seen as key change makers.
The questions above were posed by MenEngage Africa Communications & Media Specialist and the answers represent the views of staff at NGO Youth First.