Giving youth a voice
International Day of Democracy series
Increasing youth participation in governance processes through friendly accountability platforms
By Mabel Viviey, Communications Manager, STAR-Ghana
Through their work in the northern region of Ghana in 2017, Youth Empowerment for Life (YEfL) found that young people, including girls and people with disabilities (PWDs), lacked a voice, resources and a platform to act in a male-dominated society.
These groups had limited opportunities to influence decision-making processes, and had hardly any access to information and basic services.
The communities, where the YEfL project worked, were in urgent need of information and a platform for meaningful youth engagement.
More seriously, young people in the community did not show much interest in political discourse and felt disengaged from the process. They remained passive and indifferent as they lacked the self-confidence and courage to engage.
Youth Parliament project
To address these issues, YEfL, through the STAR-Ghana programme, implemented the Youth Parliament project in five districts and in 25 different communities in the northern region.
The project put in place two approaches:
Drawing inspiration from Ghana’s parliamentary system, this approach aimed to increase youth participation in governance and decision-making processes at the local levels.
This approach was used to change the behaviour and attitudes of young people, build their confidence and skills to engage effectively.
The project aimed to create a friendly and sustainable accountability platform to stimulate both dialogue for change and youth involvement in governance processes at community and district levels.
The project had a clear selection criteria and training guide, which set out rules and responsibilities.
Young people were able to discuss and debate issues concerning them with adults and duty bearers.
Unlike the usual civic engagement forums, the youth parliament presents an opportunity nurture the youth for leadership positions and for young people to build their confidence to take up these positions.
The Youth Parliament was first was first piloted with the Saboba Youth Centre, was later implemented in four new districts, Yendi, Sagnarigu, Nanumba North and Nanumba South.
All five Youth Parliaments are being supported to hold parliamentary sittings, hold radio discussions, and facilitate community journalists to gather community stories and evidence.
Youth Parliament has given me voice to participate and engage stakeholders in developmental issues, such as education, sanitation and health’
Mary Issah Nnyeyam, PWD parliamentarian, Sagnarigu Youth Parliament
Community journalism was the second approach that was used to bridge the information gap between young people and duty bearers and also the community.
In this approach, YEfL trained 25 young people, five from each district.
The approach focused on using youth reporters, or 'community journalists', who were trained in gathering community evidence on issues.
The journalists used this information aid the youth parliamentarians and help them further their arguments during parliamentary proceedings.
The community journalists were also able to discuss the happenings/proceedings of each sitting on partner community radio stations (Radio Savannah, Radio Gaakii and Gmantambu Radio) and opened the issues up to members of the public through phone-in segments.
This ensured that all youth were able to participate in discussions and enabled them to engage with the political activities.
The community journalists uses social media, in particular Facebook, to broadcast the issues beyond the borders of the beneficiary districts to attract the attention of other development partners and governments.
I didn’t even know how parliamentary proceedings were done but with the help of Youth Parliament, I am very sure that any member, if given the opportunity, could even participate in Ghana’s parliament’
Musah Asumanah, Deputy Majority Leader, Nanumba North Youth Parliament
Through the Youth Parliaments, youth and PWDs have discovered and developed their political voice to express their views in an assertive manner.
Consequently, the number of youth representation in the project has increased by around 50% from 67 to 126 participants.
Young people are now willing to discover their voices.
One PWD participant in Yendi said: “My involvement in the Youth Parliament alone makes me feel like I belong and valued since my views are now considered to be relevant in the development of our community.”
Duty bearers have also increased their response to issues raised by the participants. For example, the Member of parliament for Sagnarigu constituency responded to the Youth Parliament's call to construct a pavilion for the local Community-Based Health Planning and Services (CHPS). Work has since started at the project site.
Significantly, community journalists have documented and reported on a number of issues ranging from sanitation to security.