I don’t decide, I don’t count…
“No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.” – Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General.
In Tunisia, this small country in North Africa, young people between 15 and 29 years of age represent 24,5% of the population, according to the general population and housing census carried out in 2014 by the National Institute of Statistics. These youths are a source of life, creativity and innovation. Assuming that we unite, we will constitute a driving force for proposals that the government will not be able to ignore.
For this country in transition and under construction, this young population is an invaluable fortune and human capital. But for this human wealth to blossom, we must learn that there is much for us to give before we can take. We must stress again the importance of engaging to give a new image of ourselves and shatter the stereotypes of “Tunisian youth do nothing but run after their rights”. We are always accused of a lack of commitment. Therefore, to break from this cliché, we must unite to be heard. Together, we can no longer be ignored by decision-makers and our ideas will be taken into account. We must win a spot in the political and socio-economic landscape so that we could take over and breathe new life into Tunisian political life, today and tomorrow.
Youth participation is essential for the entrenchment of democracy.
In our country, dialogue of/with youth has become a kind of rhetoric, where we are almost never invited to the discussion table; and when we are, it is on the basis of criteria defined by political leaders and not necessarily aligned with our sociological reality.
How can we talk about “youth dialogue” in the absence of youth?
The weak participation of some of us in these dialogues is often explained by a disengagement, frustration and/or lack of trust towards the political sphere. According to a survey conducted in 2014 by the International Labor Organization, 91,2% of rural youth and 68,7% of young people from urban areas declare not having trust in political institutions. We are conscious of the importance of our participation in public life, but some deplore the absence of opportunities that enable us to exert our social rights, mainly in public administrations and institutions in which we are hastily judged on our lack of experience, and we only rarely have the occasion to participate in projects for the future and to have a say on issues that concern us and engage us in the democratic process. Only participation will enable us to become active citizens.
How to encourage youth to be good citizens?
The youth represent an immense potential for change in our world. It is essential that we offer ourselves dignified opportunities for a social, economic and political emancipation towards Tunisia’s sustainable development.
In our view, this starts with citizenship which is the foundation of democracy. We must be involved from an early age in decision-making to become good citizens. This learning process will have to start in schools. The next element is to reflect on appealing and appropriate programs for us to become more involved in the democratic process. A revision of some decision-making bodies is thus necessary, such as the creation of more positions for the youth under the supervision of experienced staff, to ease our involvement in social and political life. Governing institutions have the responsibility to assure our inclusion in society and to help us overcome the obstacles we encounter. The administration could establish partnerships with youth associations across Tunisia. Meetings could be organized among youth from different backgrounds and political decision-makers to favor dialogue – but most of all to balance intergenerational ties.
More than ever, it is important and even urgent to invest in youth. An investment must be made on this human capital. We encourage youth to become involved, as long as their participation is a fundamental right, as stipulated in Article 8 of our Constitution: “The State shall ensure that youth have the conditions necessary for the development of their capacities, of their sense of accountability, and for the expansion of their participation to social, economic, cultural and political development” because this will enable us to acquire new competencies and practical experience that will lead us to make better decisions in the future. Tunisia is going through important socio-economic and political changes. It would be judicious that we, who occupy a prominent place in society, be at the heart of these changes.
This piece is a translation. To read the original in French, click here.
Yasmine Labidi is a 23-year-old student in psychology at the Higher Institute of Human Sciences in Tunis.
She is the secretary general of the Jeunes Indépendants Démocrates (Young Independent Democrats) for
2016-2017, an association that works on education and awareness-raising for young people in the areas of
human rights and citizenship. Yasmine is committed to the values of social justice. She works – among other
things – on the rights of people with disabilities in collaboration with the association AGIM to facilitate their
social integration. She also works on the rights of immigrants in collaboration with the association Terre d’asile
Tunisie through the Maison du Droit et des Migrations project. Yasmine is part of three different networks that
focus mainly on the involvement of young people in the socio-political life: NET-MED Youth (UNESCO),
Young Leaders (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung) and the Tunisian Youth Forum of which she is the treasurer.
*The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of UNESCO or those of the European Union. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout the article do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO or the EU concerning the legal status of any country, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning its frontiers or boundaries.*
Activities building skills among youth organizations and young journalists; to enhance youth representation in media and promote freedom of expression, media and information literacy and youth-generated media content.
Activities joining youth organizations, employment experts and different national stakeholders to engage in dialogue and work together on unemployment solutions and skills needs.
Activities empowering youth to participate in the communal and national development, revision and implementation of national youth strategies and public policies.