Young people in Pacific often sidelined in decision-making says Leadership Conference

HONIARA, Solomon Islands – Young people (15-29 years old) make up 60% of the population in the Pacific but are sidelined in decision making, participants at the Commonwealth Pacific Youth Leadership and Integrity Conference heard this week.

As the Duke of Cambridge said in his speech to the conference organized by the Commonwealth Youth Progra, young leaders are heirs and successors for the Commonwealth. They are also important leaders today, spearheading programs and activities in their communities to tackle key social issues.

Yet, young people are often sidelined in decision making by both government and non-government organizations. According to the conference´s 40 participants representing 14 Pacific countries, governments’ treatment of youth is often for ‘show’ only.

Youth identified various problems relating to their participation in decision making: tokenism (where a young person might be invited to a meeting but not to speak or have a role), favouritism (where young relatives of elites are invited to meetings), and the "welcome mat" issue where young people trying to influence NGO or government decisions have a hard time getting in the door or are not made to feel welcome in decision making forums.

Cultural norms sometimes meant young people and especially young women could not speak, or could speak but were not heard or their concerns acted upon. On the other hand, young people talked about experiences they had when the heads of families, churches, chiefs and others included youth in their decisions and this was welcome.

Sometimes young people are stereotyped negatively. For example in the case of Solomon Islands during its civil conflict (1998-2003), as young people were led by militia leaders into violent and unruly behavior, some youth activities were closed as gatherings of young people were seen as a security issue, even though the youth activities were peaceful and posed no threat to the community.

Young people are keen to correct these stereotypes and to point out the positive role youth leaders play in many communities.

The issue of youth participation in decision making is being explored in a joint research project by the Commonwealth Youth Program and Victoria University.

The project will examine the research question: to what level do young people from the Pacific region participate in decision making, and how do they think their participation might be improved?´

"We all win if the door is open for young people to contribute seriously and meaningfully in decision making. They bring vital and fresh perspectives to all kinds of societal issues. It is also important to tap into their innovation and creativity on all fronts, rather than involving them tokenistically or only on youth issues. At the Commonwealth we see young people as assets, so we are committed to supporting member governments and youth leaders to find avenues for authentic youth participation to occur," said Katherine Ellis, Director and Head of Youth Affairs for the Commonwealth, who is attending the conference.

The Commonwealth Pacific Youth Leadership and Integrity Conference will build the leadership skills of young people and focus on democracy, political processes, leadership models, conflict resolution and effective communication. It is part of the Commonwealth Youth Programme´s Pacific Centre´s work to engage and empower young people (ages 15-29) and enhance their contribution to development.

Young people from Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, New Zealand, Marshall Islands, Niue, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are participating in the Commonwealth Pacific Youth Leadership and Integrity Conference. The conference concludes Saturday 22 September.


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