MOVING TOWARDS EMPOWERMENT AND INCLUSION | Meaningful Political Participation | The Youth Cafe

The Youth Cafe is taking part in an online consultation on Youth and Peacebuilding at the invitation of Peace Direct and the United Network of Young (UNOY) Peacebuilders! The three days consultations are exploring what youth-led peacebuilding looks like in practice and understanding how to operationalise the principles behind the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda. 

Whenever a country is faced with major political and social change, young men and women often take an active lead, mobilising their constituencies, organising peaceful demonstrations, engaging in dialogues - exhibiting a shared desire to take part in decision-making processes that affect their lives. Indeed, youth-led initiatives are growing around the world, as evidenced by the Arab spring, the Occupy protests and online social movements across the world.

However, young people have traditionally been excluded from or had a limited input or representation in formal political and peacebuilding processes. Only 1.9% of the world’s elected representatives are under 30 years old, and 80% of parliaments around the world have no members under 30 (IPU, 2016). This is often due to set age restrictions, but also underestimating youth’s potential to contribute to peace and stability through political processes (Cardozo et. al, 2015).

As a result, there is often a large disconnect between political leaders and young people. Many political parties recognise this and have attempted to appoint youth (often elite youth) through political youth wings where youth representatives recruit and rally others. However, many are hand-picked to speak in the political tone of the party rather than representing youth interests. In some cases, political parties manipulate youth to incite violence for their own political aims. Such significant barriers to participation further marginalise young people and provoke distrust in national institutions, widening the gap between youth and the rest of society, and weakening social stability.

In this regard, meaningful political inclusion is perhaps the key issue at the heart of youth engagement in peacebuilding. It goes without saying that the political participation of young people is indispensable to their recognition and dignity. It also helps to promote civic engagement and active citizenship, and offers institutionalised avenues for addressing grievances and conflict issues to prevent frustration and potential violence.

There is now a growing awareness among international actors of young people’s critical role in promoting peace, and this has translated into more avenues for youth political participation. In some contexts, youth political participation has achieved influential outcomes; while in others, more work is needed to establish legal political structures that increase participation beyond tokenism and address discriminatory social norms that disproportionately affect young women, ethnic minorities, youth with disabilities and other excluded groups.


  1. As a young peacebuilder, what strategies do you adopt to counter the political disempowerment and exclusion from political processes?

  2. How can we broaden the political inclusion of youth that goes beyond tokenistic approaches and taps into all youth constituencies (not just the elite)?

  3. In your experience, how can participation in informal political processes be used as a way of increasing engagement in formal political processes?

  4. Beyond age, what other factors hamper the access of young peacebuilders to political spaces and processes? How do these different factors interact with one another?

Session summary

Today’s discussions focused on the inclusion, participation and empowerment of youth peacebuilders in the political and economic spheres. We looked at the options and opportunities (or lack thereof) available to young peacebuilders when it comes to their engagement with political processes and economic policies, and we likewise explored the skills and values needed for youth to take on leadership roles in peacebuilding.

We are again impressed by the strong quality of your contributions with over 100 comments made today alone. New participants have joined today’s session, adding on to yesterday’s conversation, so please feel free to have another look at the Day 1 sessions for their contributions.

All comments so far have helped stimulate our discussion by raising thought-provoking points. In this summary we’ve done our best to include a representation of some of the key points raised throughout the day. Please feel free to review and continue to add comments to each of these threads.

Once more, we would like to thank everyone for their participation!

Meaningful political inclusion

We started the day with participants identifying the various obstacles they face when it comes to engaging in political processes, and this was closely linked to distorted perceptions of youth and toxic political environments.

Many participants saw informal political processes, which are more closely tied to peacebuilding, as a way to circumvent youth disempowerment by offering opportunities for youth to build their confidence and skills, and allowing them to participate in political spaces within their communities. Most participants referred to the need for intergenerational dialogue: engaging wider communities through public mobilisation campaigns, advocating towards political actors, or undertaking mentorship programmes for youth.

This was our highest trending topic of the day. It was wonderful to see creativity at play; participants showed they know how to think outside the box in order to find ways to achieve peace even when it sometimes seems impossible.

Key points:

“Nothing is fair in politics or political processes.” Khishigjargal Enkhbayar

“We fail to see how informal processes work, how peace is maintained at a local level and how this can be worked on. We don't see zones of peace but the drivers of peace at a local level.” Amjad Saleem

“Participation in informal political process enables young people build a vote of confidence from the community and trust that they are very willing to carry out transformative leadership.” Zaharah Namanda

“Education іѕ one оf the most іmроrtаnt mеаnѕ оf еmроwеrіng уоuthѕ оf аnу society.” Nde Bruno Anomah

“Most youths have ideas, more feasible ones but most of the times voters do not see ideas but what a candidate can physically do right during the campaign itself.” Tennyson Nkhoma

“I believe culture is dynamic. It is high time we started having conversations with our leaders on succession planning for the betterment of our communities/societies.” Vyonne Akoth