Oct. 30, 2013, 9:42 a.m.
Originally posted on ndi.org on Oct. 1, 2013.
In Afghanistan, where 64 percent of the population is under 25, engaging young people in the political process is of vital importance if the country is to become a representative democracy.
Two hundred young people from all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces recently gathered in Kabul to discuss how they could boost their role in Afghan elections, political parties and politics generally. The National Youth Conference, held Aug. 25-26 and organized by NDI, focused on young people’s roles in parliamentary and presidential elections slated for 2014 and 2015, and established an informal network of Afghan youth activists.
The diverse group — with representatives of every ethnicity and region — covered elections and human rights, political parties and coalitions, media and civil society, international agencies, and the relationship between provincial councils and good governance. Breakout sessions developed solutions to a range of problems facing young people, such as security, lack of civic education for young voters, and lingering discrimination against young people by older, entrenched leaders. Participants called on armed groups to join the peace process, requested more civic education from the Independent Election Commission, and voiced the hope that working with young people would lead parties and government officials to give them more opportunities. They cited as an example NDI’s Provincial Council Internship program, a six-year program that was part of NDI’s effort to provide technical assistance to Afghanistan’s Provincial Councils, and placed young people in local councilors’ offices to help with legislative support while learning about the political process.
These recommendations became part of a formal declaration on youth involvement in politics that was announced and distributed at the end of the conference. The declaration was shared with political parties, international organizations, citizen groups and the media, calling attention to the aspirations and demands of Afghan youth for inclusion in their country’s political life.
Conference participants vowed to remain politically engaged when they returned to their communities. “This will give us a chance to show that we have volunteer spirit,” said Ahmad Khan, a member of the Kandahar youth delegation. “...we want to volunteer for our country.”
Participants also put together a strategy to increase youth participation in politics, including how to involve their peers when they return to their communities, and a Facebook page for participants so they can continue to connect to give feedback and support.
But perhaps the most important aspect was the opportunity for the participants to come together with a diverse group of their peers. In a country where infrastructure and security concerns can make travel difficult, meeting young people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to learn about common interests and goals can help young activists feel less alone. “No organization other than NDI gathers youth at this scale at the national level and brings them together to talk about these matters,” said Shakil Ahmad, a youth council member from Nangarhar.
Ahmed credited young people in Nangarhar with drawing attention to the assassination of a local citizen leader. “He was a young person who sacrificed his life. We organized to demonstrate in different provinces, and that was an effective thing we did. It is very necessary that organizations or institutions working for youth gather them together to talk to them and, with government assistance, help them organize.”
(Image Credit: ndi.org)