International Youth Day is fast approaching and the theme this year is Youth Building Peace. According to the UN website, this year is all about “celebrating young people’s contributions to conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice and sustainable peace”.
However, many wonder whether awareness days are just symbolic and question the true impact it has had on helping to promote and engage young people to get involved in politics and decision making.
It started in 2000 but 17 years on, the world is no closer to peace and security in any aspect of life. The 2007-2008 Global Financial Crisis, followed by the Great Recession has only led to economic instability and uncertainty for the future. The Iraq War and continuing conflicts in the Middle East cast doubt on any idea of sustainable peace. So, what is there to celebrate?
Are the youth engaged? If not, who is to blame?
In the UK, one could say there has been a shift in the way young people view participation in politics and decision making. Traditionally, the turnout of the young has been negligible in comparison to that of older generations but the snap election called by Theresa May showed a somewhat different story which left ripples through Parliament and the country.
Let’s compare the turnout of the 2001 election to that of 2017:
The Age Divide
In 2001, 39% of 18-24 year olds voted. In 2017, it was 54%. Whilst the figures may not seem all that different with still only over a half voting, it shows that the apathy that was common amongst the youth for decades may be decreasing.
This could be due to the increased focus on young people during the campaign for Labour by Corbyn. He did what many politicians have failed to do – make the young people believe they have the ability to make a change. This is backed up by the statistics which show that 66% of 18-19 year olds voted Labour, which many speculate was a huge factor in the hung parliament result.
The Conservatives had a winning formula: their support base is strongest amongst the 50+ age group, and typically, the older the person, the more likely they will vote. They did not expect the youth to participate, considering previous turnouts, but the 2017 general election just emphasises that the youth have the power to make change but just have to utilise it.
Commitment of Decision Makers
International Youth Day, however, has another key focus. It is to raise awareness to governments and powerful decision makers that the youth have skills and abilities that should be utilised and harvested rather than ignored. Has this key message been lost?
Is the reason why young people don’t get involved not because of them but alienation from the people in charge? In particular, working class talent could be wasted if school spending cuts were to go ahead with school spending per pupil to fall by 7% if the Conservatives were to go ahead with policies in their manifesto. In addition, the number of working class students going to 7/24 of the Russell Group universities dropped in 2016.
This raises the point that young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, won’t be able to help contribute to making a better and safer world in the way that the 12th August and many other awareness days and events try to promote – not because they simply don’t want to but they haven’t been given the resources and access in order to do so.
International Youth Day has a good message behind it – the youth are going to be our next leaders and problem solvers and so should be getting involved now since they are the ones that have to live with the consequences of choices that are made.
But, it isn’t that simple – both the youth and governments need to work together to create a positive and beneficial relationship and both need to co-operate if the aims are to be put into practice.
2017 has been a remarkable year for this – the youth seemed to realise their power and the leaders saw its effects. This could be a turning point in this complicated relationship. Parties have realised that communicating with young people may be the best way forward whilst young people seemingly realised that the traditional political process isn’t something to be ignored.