By: Sanya Ahuja
“My faith is in the younger generation, the modern generation,
out of them will come my workers.
They will work out the whole problem, like lions.”
– Swami Vivekananda
The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow and hence this asset needs to be protected, preserved and polished. Young people are agents of progress and have an eminent role in driving a world to its zenith- both socially and economically. They are the key drivers of nation-building. Without the cooperation of youth, Agenda 2030 which includes promotion of peace and harmony in the world seems far-fetched. While nearly half of the world’s population is under 30, sadly, only 2.6% of parliamentarians are under 30 and the average age of our political leaders is 62. This shows the lack of participation of these young minds in decision making.
A resolution proclaiming 12 August as International Youth Day was adopted by the first session of the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth in 1998 and since then International Youth Day is celebrated annually on August 12th by the United Nations, aiming to raise awareness about the cultural, social, environmental and legal challenges faced by youth worldwide and also emphasizing on the rights of young people to have full access to education, healthcare, environment, employment and other monetary services. This day seeks to highlight and celebrate youth’s voices, actions and initiatives in bringing a positive change and tackling global issues. This day also encourages youth to participate in making positive contributions to their communities in order to serve as catalysts for peace and prosperity of the world. To spread this message of youth empowerment and engagement, the UN has developed a framework of three approaches: increased commitment and investment in youth, increased youth participation and partnerships, and increased intercultural understanding among youth. This approach is followed and implemented at ground level annually by organizing several educational radio shows, public meetings, parades, concerts, fairs, festivals, exhibitions and debates etc.
The theme and slogan for this day also change every year to cover a range of issues that affect young people today. The theme of International Youth Day 2022 is “Intergenerational solidarity: Creating a world for all ages”. Every day, policy-makers around the world make important decisions about the future of our communities, countries and even our planet. Yet young people continue to be routinely excluded from these decision-making spaces, despite being the generation that will disproportionately inherit the consequences of the choices we make today. Hence to address this issue, the 2022 theme focuses on ageism, its detrimental effect on society as a whole and how intergenerational cooperation is a key solution to it. Ageism is often understood as unfair treatment against the old but in reality, it has a broader definition and implication. There are various studies which have reported ageism directed against the youth which impacts their psychological health, professional skills and personal growth. Youngsters often become victims of ageism in matters of justice, politics and job opportunities. Ageism is often an unaddressed issue in health, human rights and development. In addition, ageism regularly intersects with other forms of bias such as racism and sexism and impacts people in ways that prevent them to reach their full potential and comprehensively contribute to their community. In this light, the Office of UN Secretary General launched a campaign- ‘Be Seen, be Heard’ in order to amplify the often ignored voices of youth and uphold their right to be included in political decision-making.
Today, as we navigate the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes very important to recognize and address the aforementioned age-related barriers to strengthen our society in a manner that leverages all generations’ strengths and knowledge, especially the youth. During the pandemic, the urgent need of making youngsters as global partners was realized. The youth population was one of the most vulnerable sections who faced multi- faceted challenges during the pandemic especially in developing countries like India. Youth organizations have expressed greatest concern about the impact of COVID-19 on mental well-being, employment, income loss, disruptions to education, familial relations as well as a limitation to individual freedoms for youth. More than 70 per cent of youth who study or combine study with work have been adversely affected by the closing of schools, universities and training centers (as per ILO report). Many skilled youngsters lost their jobs during the pandemic and were forced to take up low-income, insecure and temporary jobs much below their actual potential. The rate of unemployment rose and the available disposable income fell rapidly worldwide. The findings from the OECD survey also confirm significant psychological impacts of social distancing and quarantine measures on young people causing stress, anxiety and loneliness. These points clearly indicate the relevance of International Youth Day especially during the worldwide emergencies and crises like covid pandemic in order to bring into light the educational, health, economic and other social challenges faced by youth today.
But, fortunately, the world also realized the potential of youth during these tough times and how they truly represent the hope for the future. The youth organizations displayed a strategic vision, coordinated action plan and most importantly resilience during the pandemic. They provided access to educational, peer-to-peer mental health advice and organized multiple awareness & de- stigmatization programmes to support adolescents and young adults in confinement. Many initiatives have focused on providing support to the elderly and other groups who were vulnerable to infection and other mental health problems. For instance, to combat false information in the wake of the crisis, youth organizations launched the international campaign #youthagainstcovid19 to map and share myth-busting, fact-checking websites and resources was launched. Youth-led organizations have also been active in building for recovery, sometimes in partnership with governments like the “What can youth do under COVID-19” campaign by Dutch Youth Council. The skilled young labor force also played an eminent role in fields of research, communication and scientific development like vaccination drives which eventually helped the world to recover from pandemic. This clearly highlights the important contribution of youth towards mitigating covid pandemic indicating the requirement of their participation in decision- making. But, Covid pandemic is not the only crisis that we, as a global community are facing today, the challenges and problems are multi- faceted and multi- layered.
As escalating global conflict, turbulent geopolitics, the ongoing climate crisis and worsening socio-economic issues continue to plague our world. There is an increasing need for fresh perspectives to guide and bring about transformative political decision-making that breaks beyond the status quo. Here comes the role of our youth population. Mobilization of youth and the management of this demographic dividend is needed to stabilize world affairs and address following global problems:
- Climate Change: Since today’s youth will be most vulnerable to future climate impact, their opinions and views while developing the strategies to mitigate, combat and adapt to climate change becomes important. Environmental protection is equally important as economic growth is. Participation of different stakeholders, ranging from students to the youth organizations will help in development of strategies which are not only impactful but also practical enough to implement.
- Scientific Advancement & Industrial Revolution 5.0: When the world is marching on the lines of globalization and digitalization, the role of skilled expertise and academia becomes important. The young and enthusiastic minds have the potential to bring stable, sustainable and secure scientific ideas which will lead the world towards Industrial Revolution 5.0 and other technological advancements. This will drive the world towards economic growth and prosperity. More investments by developing countries like India in the area of research, encouraging entrepreneurial ventures and financial support to noble and innovative ideas can drive a nation to greater heights.
- Sustainability: In order to achieve the 17 SDGs by 2030, a well planned and strategic vision is required. These goals can only be achieved with contribution and participation from different stakeholders including the youth organizations. Goals of combating climate change, promoting peace, universal education and health etc. need the youngsters to come to the forefront.
- Social Growth: An educated and skilled youth of today will give us a skilled posterity. The youth of today if skilled, educated and healthy will help in promoting an atmosphere of tolerance, inclusive growth and de-stigmatization of age- old practices worldwide. The growth of oppressed communities will happen only when the youth of today comes forward as frontline awareness promoters.
- Strengthening Globalization: While on one hand, the turbulent geo- politics creates uncertainty about world affairs and international relations, the young diaspora keeps the spirit of globalization alive. The movement of skilled and unskilled youth across countries has brought the world closer and promotes exchange and intermingling of different cultures and traditions.
- Peace & Harmony: The 17th SDG aims at promoting global peace. The unstable and unpredictable geo-politics of contemporary world is a big hurdle in way of this goal. The youth organizations both directly and indirectly can help in promoting peace by spreading awareness about inclusive growth, tolerance and bringing in fresh perspectives. The youth of today can try to achieve this goal by adopting a more rational approach and forming various collaborations in order to expand the reach of their initiatives. Initiatives like United Nations Youth Volunteer Programme, UNESCO’s ‘By youth, with youth & for youth’ campaign are some of the initiatives in this direction.
From the aforementioned points it is very much clear that the youth of today holds potential to bring about a positive change in society, enhance global relations, strengthen geo-politics and aid in facing challenges like the recent pandemic. The world currently holds the largest generation of youth in history but still this potential for impact is often inhibited. The tragedy is that many young people around the world battle the suffocating grip of poverty, disease, lack of resources, education, and more. The progress, dreams, and world-changing abilities are restricted for many young people. There is an urgent need for enhancing young people’s leadership skills; empowering the next generation of changemakers through capacity building and training opportunities. It can be achieved by policy changes and legal support from different parts of the globe. Therefore, removing systemic barriers for young people to participate in public life, challenging legal, social and cultural barriers that obstruct youth participation in politics is indeed the need of the hour in order to not only protect our planet but also promote peace and prosperity.
- Be Seen Be Heard: A global campaign promoting youth participation in public life. Retrieved from https://beseenbeheardcampaign.com/
- International Youth Day | United Nations. (2022, August 11). the United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/observances/youth-day
- Youth and COVID-19: Response, recovery and resilience. (2022, April 9). OECD. https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/youth-and-covid-19-response-recovery-and-resilience-c40e61c6/
- COVID-19 disrupts education of more than 70 per cent of youth. (2020, August 11). ILO. https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_753060/lang–en/index.htm
- International Youth Day. (n.d.). Compassion International. https://www.compassion.com/world-days/international-youth-day.htm