Just days after celebrating Commonwealth Day, sixty young leaders from across the Commonwealth had a chance to speak directly with a group of Foreign Affairs Ministers and High Commissioners from Commonwealth member states at an event in London.
The event, Democracy Today in the Commonwealth: Enhancing Youth Political Participation in Governance, led to an engaging debate about the future of democracy and what initiatives may help to increase youth involvement in politics.
Held at the Commonwealth Secretariat headquarters, Marlborough House in London, the event brought the youth together with the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers and High Commissioners who had been attending the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting in London on Wednesday 15 March.
During the event, the youth leaders and the Government representatives reflected on the Commonwealth’s work in promoting democracy and good governance in member states and explored the young leaders’ perspectives on democracy, governance and political participation in the Commonwealth.
They also discussed practical recommendations to encourage young people’s participation in the civil and political life of member states. Some of the recommendations included an expansion of youth parliaments, the development of youth advisory councils, young people forming their own political parties and harnessing their political power to fight for greater gender inclusion. Also discussed was increased inclusion of people with disabilities and the issue of voting rights for the diaspora.
The youth leaders had an opportunity to engage with the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, who commented on how heartening it was to spend time with the young people of the Commonwealth and she reinforced their importance to the future of the political landscape.
The Secretary-General said:
“Young people are the largest demographic group in many countries, and in our Commonwealth as a whole. So it is vital that we work together to help equip young people with the skills and knowledge to participate effectively in the democratic processes, and to ensure their views are embraced.”
She added: “It is not enough to simply provide opportunities for young people to participate in the democratic process. We must also ensure that their voices are heard and their contributions are valued. This requires a genuine and meaningful commitment from governments, civil society, and other stakeholders to really engage with young people and take their concerns seriously.”
This event is just one of a number of initiatives to mark the Year of the Youth, which was agreed to at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2022.
Head of Social Policy Development at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Layne Robinson, who coordinated the event, was pleased with the event’s outcome. He said: “Many of the young people here are already involved in the democracies in their countries. As one of the drivers of good governance and electoral in our member countries, it is imperative that the Secretariat play a role in the next generation of change-makers and defenders of good practices.”
The dialogue was part of a two-week Commonwealth Youth Leadership Summit, which aimed to upskill these young leaders, give them a chance to collaborate and build their networks. The leadership summit is one of the landmark activities to mark the Year of the Youth. The Year of the Youth celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Commonwealth Charter and the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth Youth Programme.
In London, Commonwealth Day was marked on 13 March with a series of events, including a wreath-laying ceremony in memory of fallen Commonwealth servicemen and women, followed by a special service at Westminster Abbey and a reception for visiting dignitaries hosted at Buckingham Palace. Commonwealth Day was also celebrated in member countries with activities including flag-raisings, religious services and other commemorative activities.