By : Asmita Ghosh
Kailash Satyarthi once said, “The power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match with the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of the young people.”, and even eight years after his Nobel Peace Prize win, this quote still remains relevant. The world in the past two years has changed in an unfathomable way, the pandemic had brought everything to a standstill and in a time when the glimmer of hope seemed to diminish just a bit more with each passing day, the youth of the world stepped up to shine a light on this dark world. Be it playing a key role in the 2020 US Presidential Elections or engaging in climate activism or by helping the populace dying from covid find medical resources or just by banding together and singing in their balconies to get rid of the morbidity of the pandemic, the youth of the world has proved just how valuable of an asset they are to our society. Nearly half of all people in the world today are under the age of 25 and a turbulent post-1990s period is what this generation experienced growing up. One economic growth paradigm—the expanded free market—has been their model of upbringing. Politically and economically, they are doing better than their predecessors. However, the youth leading the charge is what unites protests taking place all over the world, from Hong Kong to Chile to US to Barcelona to India, from growing food inflation to train prices to curtailing of freedom to climate change, from affluent to poor. The youthful world grew more hostile during this decade.
International Youth Day is commemorated every year on 12 August. It is meant as an opportunity for governments and others to draw attention to youth issues worldwide. The theme for 2022 is “Intergenerational solidarity: Creating a world for all ages”. This year’s theme intends to spread the message that every generation needs to take action to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) by the year 2030. Solidarity across generations is key for sustainable development. The ILO confirms that the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt young people, regarding employment, more than any other age group and it is intergenerational cohesion and bonding that will help the youth get out of this slump and achieve their potential. Inequality, social unrest, and climate change are being brought on by the same prosperity that made it possible for democracy and global progress to flourish after World War II. This prosperity is also contributing to a growing wealth gap between generations and a heavy burden on young people’s credit cards. The Great Recession of 2008 and the ensuing high levels of unemployment among Millennials were caused by these factors, as well as by their inability to find fulfilling employment. Currently, COVID-19 has led to widespread demonstrations, school closings, and growing unemployment among Generation Z. In the paper Youth and COVID-19: impacts on jobs, education, rights, and mental well-being, 65% of young people claimed to have learnt less since the pandemic’s start as a result of the switch from in-person instruction to online and distant learning during lockdown.
Even though they made an effort to continue learning and training, 50% of them feared their studies would be delayed and 9% worried they may fail. The situation has been made worse for young people in developing nations who have less access to the internet, fewer resources, and occasionally less space at home. As people were compelled to stay at home to curb the spread of coronavirus and as some families struggle to pay for online education, the pandemic is made it harder to keep the youth with a constructive outlook. Therefore, the passiveness of the youth needs reactivation. When discussing the future of our world, the next generation is the most significant and impacted stakeholder, and we owe them more than this. In order to make intergenerational parity the norm and to create a society, economy, and global community that cares for everyone, it is necessary to start thinking and acting long-term in the year 2022.
In the midst of the pandemic, when people were dying and the dearth of oxygen tanks and hospital beds was felt everywhere in the world and it seemed like the dead bodies would just not stop piling up, the Millennials and Gen-Z took to social media and started campaigning and organising relief volunteering programs to not just create awareness about the extent of the pandemic but also to source medical help and resources when hospitals all over the world were overwhelmed. The youth of the era did not act simply as spectators and disempowered citizens when the crisis began, but rather they acted as front-line responders, combating the spread of the virus and mitigating the many consequences of the pandemic, making an incredible display of their resourcefulness, creativity, and tenacity in tackling the spread of the virus. But even before the pandemic hit, the youth was in some ways in a worse place than their predecessors. Ever mounting debt, political unrest, reproductive and sexual health, climate change is few of the problems that the youth was tackling way before the pandemic decided to sink its clutches into them as well. It’s likely that today’s blight on youth’s promise is far more pernicious. Consider the following unsettling statistics to grasp the scope of the betrayal: According to the Economic Survey of India by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, more than 30% of India’s young (or around 120 million) are not in school, are not working, and are not participating in any type of apprenticeship. This is a concerning figure, especially for a developing country like India who should utilise the force of this young cohort to propel economic growth and prosperity. Various theories of demography clearly state that this period of enhanced youth population is a window of economic opportunity, when supplied with proper education and employment, will lead to the growth of the economy.
The youth of today have time and time again proved their ability to contribute to society and change notwithstanding their key role during COVID-19. Young people across the United States turned out at a higher rate than 2016, playing a key role in the tight Presidential race. Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida, has made a preliminary calculation that suggests over 160 million individuals may have cast ballots, making this election’s voter turnout across all age categories the highest in more than 100 years. The increase in young voters’ involvement may have contributed to former Vice President Joe Biden’s victory in crucial swing states, considering that young voters clearly preferred him. Voter turnout among young people increased in reaction to important concerns including the pandemic, racism, and climate change. The “distractible” generations of millennials and Gen Zers did not lose attention throughout this election, proving that the younger generations are just as engaged in national affairs as the baby boomers. Children and young people are acting in social, political, and economic contexts all around the world, showcasing their ability to contribute to social change. Children and their abilities are frequently the subject of many assumptions made by adults, many of which are demonstrably wrong. When given the chance to collaborate with adults who are willing to exercise their own authority, youth can serve as the leaders of activist groups and organisations.
Never before have there been as many young people active in global movements for change. To interact, express themselves, and advocate for change, they are going out on the streets and participating in online social networks and groups. They are demonstrating against tyrannical governments, corruption, and inequality.
They are working to ensure both the present and future generations have a more prosperous future. However, there is still a lack of political representation for young men and women. They are clamouring for a bigger say in how decisions are made in order to have more influence over how their lives and futures are moulded. Globally, there is a dearth of youth participation and representation in institutional political processes and decision-making. Parliaments, government, and decision-making organisations like committees on constitution and peacebuilding are uncommon places for people under the age of 35 to be found. It’s typical to make inaccurate assumptions about young people and their involvement in politics, and these preconceptions are frequently brought on by ignorance and/or prejudice. These pervasive presumptions unfairly portray the daily lives of most adolescents, who do not form a homogenous group. They can also result in prejudice against young people, which will have a severe impact on their ability to engage in democratic processes. Young people can quickly feel disempowered if they face barriers to engaging in formal, institutionalised political processes. Many people have a tendency to think that their voices won’t be heard or, even if they are, won’t be taken seriously. While political activism in political parties used to be the main way that citizens engaged in politics (through membership, volunteer work, door-to-door campaigning, attending meetings, etc.), the past ten years have shown that political parties are having trouble luring new members, especially young people.
Young people’s “climate anxiety,” or the belief that apocalyptic climate change would ruin their futures, has been well-documented to be on the rise in recent years. The cause for this worry in young people, according to academics and climate campaigners, is that many of them don’t think that government officials are doing anything to improve their future. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish climate activist who gained international attention in 2019 with her Fridays for Future climate strikes and emotional outburst during an invited address at the UN, is the most vocal example of this fear. She is 18 years old and from Sweden. Thunberg has long shown her disdain for anyone who don’t take the “climate disaster” seriously. Amid the ongoing COVID19 crisis, research shows that the public’s concern towards the climate has gone up, with most people calling for wide-ranging policy responses. Reproductive and sexual health has been a major concern of the young population for the past years, with anti-abortion and LGBTQIA lobbyists on the rise, the youth especially women and the LGBTQ community have taken to the streets to make their voices heard. This discrimination has led to a considerable unrest and bad faith among the youth against the leaders of the world. According to a High Commissioner for Human Rights report on youth and human rights, many young people believe that institutional and structural hurdles, cultural attitudes, institutional norms, and age-based abuses of their fundamental rights limit their ability to achieve their potential. Young people frequently experience stigma and prejudice due to societal standards in nations all over the world, even when they need sexual and reproductive health treatments. As a result, young people fear that their confidentiality will not be protected or that they may face discrimination in health care as a result of this judgement. This is especially true for young LGBTI individuals, especially in nations where same-sex partnerships or trans people are criminalised, where access to the recognition of gender identity is not available, or where LGBTI youth’s rights to their physical and mental integrity are infringed. According to a global survey on youth and COVID-19, the virus has had a systematic, profound, and disproportionate effect on young people, especially women, younger youth, and youth in lower-income nations. Additionally, the crisis has made already-existing inequities worse. The more that young people, especially young women, feel empowered and confident to speak up about these challenges, the more that societal conversations about them become commonplace, and the more that governments begin to pay attention.
Malala and Greta might have been on the magazine covers and news headlines but thousands more are working tirelessly for causes like climate justice, racial and gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and economic change. So, what are Generation Z and the Millennials doing? They are urgently urging the international community to defend vaccination equality in order to combat COVID-19 and avert other health tragedies. A worldwide wealth tax is being supported by young people in an effort to regulate the worrisome rise in wealth inequality and finance more robust safety nets. They are advocating for additional funding to go toward initiatives that support the enlistment of young progressives as lawmakers.
Young people are calling for an end to coal, oil, and gas exploration, development, and funding in order to slow global warming. They are also requesting that companies remove any corporate board members who are opposed to switching to greener energy sources. They are promoting an open internet and a $2 trillion digital access plan to connect everyone to the internet and avoid internet blackouts, and they are outlining novel strategies to reduce the spread of false information and counter harmful extremist viewpoints. At the same time, they are advocating for funding to prevent and combat the stigma connected with mental illness and speaking out about it. The Great Recession that engulfed the globe after the 2008 financial crisis is still going strong. Automation just serves to exacerbate the situation. However, it is evident that young people are suffering the most, particularly now that the pandemic’s economic effects have been added to the mix.
The International Labour Organization has issued a warning about a “scarred generation” that might become easy prey for fascist, religious, or political groups like the ISIS in West Asia, the Taliban in Afghanistan, etc. as chronic unemployment makes young people cynical and resentful. Or it might lead to a life of crime, such as leaking exam papers, selling drugs, rioting, stealing credit cards, or joining lynch mobs. 38% of young people, according to the research, are unsure about their future employment prospects, and the transition from school to the workforce is predicted to take longer due to the crisis’ increased labour market barriers. One in six youngsters have had to quit working since the start of the pandemic, thus some have already directly experienced the effects. Younger employees are more susceptible to the financial effects of the pandemic since they are more likely to work in highly affected occupations including support, services, and sales-related activities. Meeting the goals and expectations of this generation will require an emphasis on stakeholder capitalism, transparency, accountability, and trust. We must also give them the authority to take the initiative and bring about significant change.
The innumerable instances of young people undertaking collective action by uniting various viewpoints to look out for their communities should serve as an inspiration to everyone. Their examples offer the blueprints we need to construct the more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable society and economy we need in the post-COVID-19 world, from supporting refugees and others affected by the epidemic to promoting local climate action. As members of a global village, we must communicate with one another, understand one another, and respect one another in order to foster the conditions necessary for a peaceful and sustainable global community and stay true to the theme and spirit of International Youth Day