Giving Young People a Voice: Youth Rights and Engagement in Uzbekistan

This week’s blog by GPG Associate Aileen Walker reports on the second GPGF “From Policy to Impact” webinar forum with the Uzbekistan Parliamentary Commission on Follow-up and Compliance with International Human Rights, which examined how to engage effectively with young people on their human rights.

Globally, the number of young people is at an all-time high and children and young people under 30 constitute 60% of the population in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek parliament – the Oliy Majlis – and the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, are promoting the importance of the youth voice in the country and the wider region by designating 2021 as the year of supporting youth and proposing a Draft UN Convention on the Rights of Youth.

On 29 March 2021, Global Partners Governance Foundation (GPGF) and the British Embassy in Tashkent organised a forum in which the members of the Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights could discuss with UK experts and young parliamentarians how to encourage meaningful political participation by young people.

When you give young people a voice – you create a generation of young people who understand not only the power but the value of their voices. You give them the skills, strength and the self-belief to become innovators, creators and leaders. By giving the youth of your country a meaningful voice and a platform on which to use it, you change the face of a nation and inspire a next generation of leaders.

Cormac Savage,
Former Member of the UK Youth Parliament, and Board Member of the British Youth Council

After welcoming remarks from the Chair, Baroness Alison Suttie, initial contributions were delivered by HM Ambassador to the Republic of Uzbekistan, Tim Torlot, and First Deputy Speaker of the Oliy Majlis and Chair of the Parliamentary Commission Prof Akmal Saidov. Mr Abdulla Aslanov, Member of the Uzbek Parliamentary Human Rights Commission and Chair of the Youth Affairs Commission of the Legislative Chamber, then explained how the draft youth rights convention had been taken to youth groups in workshops and discussions in the regions. I introduced the Communication and Outreach Strategy Guide that GPGF had produced to support the Commission’s public engagement remit, central to its aim to bring about an effective human rights culture in Uzbekistan.

Parliamentary Committees: youth engagement best practice

Claire Menzies, Clerk to the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee, gave practical examples of ways in which that committee worked with its designated outreach and engagement specialist and youth groups to ensure that young people’s voices were represented in its work. She referred to the rights based approach the Committee adopts to ensure meaningful participation of young people, and the PANEL Principles:

Participation – Accountability – Non-discrimination – Empowerment – Legality

As part of its inquiry into incorporating the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child into Scots law, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee worked collaboratively with youth organisations and coproduced an e-consultation system, receiving many submissions from young people. It also produced resources in a variety of formats for different groups and issued a child-friendly report alongside the Committee’s official report.

“A seat at the table”

Compelling presentations followed from current and former members of youth parliaments – Shakhnoza Joldasova, Sophie Reid, and Cormac Savage – from the Uzbekistan Youth Parliament (Deputy Chair), Scottish Youth Parliament, and the UK Youth Parliament respectively. They gave excellent examples of both ineffective youth engagement – instances where youth engagement had been tokenistic and insufficiently targeted – and effective, meaningful engagement where young people had participated in agenda-setting and decision-making and the government had listened and responded to their views.

Young people are the future and are the drivers of change. It is time to empower them to speak up and use their voices. 

Without the key insight young people provide, opportunities are missed to solve problems in innovative ways.

Sophie Reid,
Member and Trustee of the Scottish Youth Parliament

There were several key best practice engagement principles that cropped up again and again from the speakers, such as:

  • To get the most out of political engagement with young people, young people themselves should be involved in co-designing the means of engagement.
  • Engage with young people on communication channels and in terms that make sense to them. Make formats and structures accessible.
  • Involve young people as stakeholders in setting the work programme, find out what issues are concerning them.
  • Work collaboratively with youth groups and encourage young people’s ownership of the engagement.
  • Be positive and inclusive and seek out a range of views, also from those whose voices are not generally heard.
  • Youth parliaments and committees can have productive relationships with their counterparts in the national parliament.
  • Close the feedback loop: having asked for views, listen to what is said, and show how the young people’s voices have fed into policy discussions.

His Excellency, Ambassador of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the UK, Said Rustamov, closed the forum and referred to the international conference being planned on the Draft Convention on Youth Rights on 12 August 2021.

Youth participation

The issue of engaging with young people is considered further in a new paper on Youth Participation to be published shortly in the GPG Guide to Parliaments series. The paper considers the role of parliaments in engaging with young people, not so much to convince elected representatives why they should engage with young people, but rather how they can engage specifically and meaningfully with their young citizens to increase youth democratic participation. It covers issues such as:

  • Creating an “enabling environment”
  • Being accessible to the different audiences within the category of “youth”
  • Collaboration opportunities
  • Parliamentary education and outreach services aimed at young people
  • Developing an engagement plan

Case studies of good practice are also included.

GPGF in Uzbekistan

The forum on youth rights was held as part of GPGF’s British Embassy funded work in Uzbekistan supporting the newly formed Parliamentary Commission on Follow-up and Compliance with International Human Rights. The Commission was partly based on the UK Joint Committee on Human Rights, which an Uzbek delegation had visited in early 2020.

A team of GPG Associates have been involved in supporting different aspects of this project, including training sessions and discussions on international best practice around:

  • International human rights frameworks and obligations
  • Gender-sensitive approaches to human rights scrutiny
  • Parliamentary human rights monitoring tools
  • Parliamentary responses to human rights issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Effective outreach to citizens, with an emphasis on youth

Further information:

Last week’s blog reports on the previous GPGF “From Policy to Impact” forum on the role of parliaments on in overseeing human rights

Reflections from GPG Associate Baroness Alison Suttie give fascinating background to her work in Uzbekistan.