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Transforming Numbers into Effective Participation; A Youth Perspective by Emmana Jeffers

Transforming Numbers into Effective Participation; A Youth Perspective by Emmana Jeffers

There is no Governance without people. Thus, young people in the OECS need be actively engaged in the process of Governance if they want to inherit a future that looks and feels like them. Governance, in the context of Caribbean Small Island developing states is complex. It involves the overall planning, leadership, and coordination of the legal and administrative oversight of a country. However, for public governance in the 21st century to be effective in SIDS like the OECS, the outcomes need to positively impact the polity, economy and most importantly society (Grenade,2012 ) . Hence, it is always alarming that most policy makers do not speak directly about the deliberate inclusion of young people within the processes of Governance. Young people, however, need to make it their duty to understand what Government entails. As such, It is of my view that the lack of interest and disengagement of young people with politics is due to their lack of knowledge of how much it affects their lives.

For Governance to thrive and become “good” the youth must be involved. Remember, for a government to make the necessary changes for the future that we the youth of the region want; we need to let our governments know what we need from them today.  Political Behaviour amongst an electorate is never stagnant but always progressive in nature. As young people we have more power in our hands than we give ourselves credit for in our democracies.  A mass movement of young people is needed at this time, to fully realize our potentials and ensure we are central to the governance conversation in our respective states. However, few young people are engaged in the processes of democracy, and many are reluctant to be associated with anything political. Politics is an extremely loaded word but in its simplest definition it boils down to two factors, people, and their decisions. According to Andrew Heywood “Politics, in its broadest sense, is the activity through which people, make, preserve and amend the general rules under which they live.” Parties in a democracy base their manifestos and campaigns on their party’s views and ability to deliver in areas of development that is demanded by its citizenry. Governments pass legislation and create policies that are in the interest of the Citizens. As Young people we need to view ourselves not as mere onlookers of the Debates that take place in the House of Assembly but as the shapers of these debates.

Often, people make the mistake of thinking that politics and political leadership only involves political parties, their representatives, and their delegates. Politics involves all of us, for without people there is no politics. Notwithstanding, that we must be realistic of our countries position and where we want to be in the future of our development for effective change to take place. This is a barrier that the youth have put up against their own sleeves without knowing. Our numbers, especially when operating as the majority in certain countries, count for something. Be it voting, or holding our governments accountable beyond an election, a mass movement of young people is needed at this time, to fully realise our potentials and ensure that we are central to the governance conversation in our respective states. “What is our mirror image?” Is what Sir Errol Barrow, former Prime Minister of Barbados would ask yourselves. Are the legacies of enslavement still so pervasive that we cannot see ourselves as competent and worthy enough to enter the mainstream of our development? Perhaps Bob Marley was right, we need to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, and none but ourselves [youth] can free our minds.  It is fully our responsibility to let our voices be heard and make use of our natural talents to do so effectively.

 “Good governance” is something that we must understand as individuals, and it is our collective duty to achieve it. If we want change then we need to recognize that it will only take place if we lend our voices to the political issues in our communities and countries by extension. The youth have a responsibility to ensure that their countries progress in the ways that are beneficial to our growth as citizens. However, one of the major barriers that youth face in active participation in politics lies with how the rest of the populace views the youth. Negative attitudes and views of the youth is a major deterrent to their active participation in politics. The attacks on their personal lives and choices, the traditional conservative views that they have already broken from are used as fear tactics towards their involvement. Their difference in views of their society is vastly different from the traditional views of the yesteryears of the Caribbean. Yet, a society simply cannot fully progress without the involvement of the people who make up society, but it is also up to the people to inform and effectively involve themselves and ensure that their importance is known and felt.

 How we position ourselves must be strategic, we must take the lead and lend our voices especially in the sectors that we are directly involved and most actively engaged in such as, sports, culture, and education. The rhetoric of the youth must change and the older generation, stuck in their attitudes due to the difference in how they were raised and the era that they were raised will not change. Change will begin when we take in front and show them that we are fully capable of leading and being champions of our countries. Parties change and adapt their strategies to our behaviour; they create policies and pass legislation that they argue are in our best interests, clearly, people shape Governance. Political parties hire political scientists and analysts to observe changes in the voting population and base their campaigns on the behaviours of the majority. How the youth react to Government plans plays a big role in how parties shape their campaigns. Our voices are so strong that even our silence matters. Again, therefore, I say that we must be informed with what governance entails. Our views of Governance and the role of Governance controls the narrative of development in our respective countries. If it is of popular view amongst the youth that Constitutional Reform and Review needs to happen, then it will happen, if we are silent about it and say nothing then it will never be given importance. It is up to us to bring attention to the areas that we would like to highlight for development. Whether it is technology, education, sports, energy, mental health, the environment, creative arts, you name it, if we do not highlight the importance of and within these areas then the changes that we want made will not happen.

As youth, we are the holders of progressive views that are critical to the development of our respective Islands. Yes, we are dependent on our governments and the policies and projects that they put in place to experience better lives in our countries, but it is our duty to ensure that our governments make the changes that will be beneficial to our futures. As such, we need to be informed, objective and reasonable in our discourse. The only way that we can break down barriers established against youth participation in politics is by understanding the political environment that we live in. This includes our political structures and systems, so that when conversations arise of changes that are to be made, we will be able to lend our voice and be taken seriously. For a democracy to work, somebody has to give way to a stronger viewpoint, but it must be agreed by the masses. It is therefore of paramount importance that Young People lead in spaces that they can impact and understand the importance of community. This does not mean that they must run for a position in Government as is it not the only area that one can effect meaningful change. Other areas, such as sports, village councils, trade unions and other social groups are of equal importance, even though it may not attract the same attention. In the it is the impact on the wider societal construct that counts.

Hence, we need to show interest, pay attention, and participate in our countries Politics. Therefore, we have absolutely no reason to doubt how powerful the youth voice is in elections. Topics such as Constitutional Reform, individual ministries performances, youth, and unemployment, at risk youth, educational reform, mental health, Child abuse, sexual offences, climate change, agriculture, tourism, and many other areas, must have our interest and we should not be afraid to voice our opinion on these matters. Even if you are afraid to publicly voice your opinion the OECS Report gives you the opportunity to let your voice be heard and get your concerns to the policy makers of your country. If you are not invited to the conversation, the truth is that you need to bring a walking chair, stool or better yet stand and when the opportunity arises speak up. Form groups, create communities, unify for the change that you want to achieve. Remember that our voice matters, but it is up to us to make it known.

By: Emmana Jeffers – OECS U-Report Ambassador

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