GPG recently launched its 13th publication in the Guide to Parliaments series during a webinar chaired by Lord Jeremy Purvis of Tweed on Youth Participation and the impact of Covid-19 on youth policy with a special focus on Bahrain. The publication was co-authored by Aileen Walker, former Director of Public Engagement at the UK Parliament, and Francesca Danmole, Public Policy Expert. They presented the publication and took part in a discussion with HE Ahmad Alaamer, member of the Bahrain Parliament and President of the Youth and Sports Committee, and Maryam Al Sada, Head of Educational Affairs at the Bahrain Institute for Political Development. In this blog, GPG’s MENA Project Manager Nayla Zein provides an outline of the discussion.
Youth Participation and Parliament
Experts and politicians agree that there is no single definition of Youth Participation. It refers broadly to when young people have an active role and a voice in issues that affect them but also those that concern their communities and the world. This is particularly important for Parliaments which need young people to become active citizens who understand and engage in democratic processes: youths are the voters of the future.
Parliaments have been setting up education departments tasked with providing schools and teachers with resources to help pupils learn about their country’s political system and the ways in which they should interact with it. In recent years, Parliaments realised that engagement had to happen beyond the education system, and that specialised outreach teams were needed to create programmes and activities that reach youths through different social channels. Outreach is a new concept which focuses on reaching people everywhere and engaging those who did not have a connection to Parliament. Political structures such as youth parliaments or young mayor schemes mirror political structures and allow youths to develop political literacy and skills.
For Youth Participation to be meaningful, an enabling environment is required in which there is awareness that young people have an opinion and can be active stakeholders in policy issues, in addition to the political will of decision makers to strategically engage youth in a way that is constructive and representative. Youths are not a homogenous group, and their different backgrounds have to be taken into account. It is crucial that diverse young people are represented. This is what the authors call the feedback loop : any mechanism that allows young people’s opinions to be acknowledged and provided with a response. Partnerships with civil society organisations, networks, or intermediaries can be used as channels to reach as many youths as possible, and ensure better communication flow and quality. One successful example is the Youth Steering Group which was tasked with reviewing the 20 year environment plan of the UK. Youths involved issued a report which was handed to the minister in charge, which in turn linked youth to a direct policy outcome.
Bahrain’s experience: Covid-19 and the state’s focus on youth
The Kingdom of Bahrain is a pioneer in terms of recent attention to Youth Participation. GPG has been working closely with the Bahrain Council of Representatives (Majlis al-Nuwab) to enhance youth political participation. The lower house counts 18 young members out of 40 members in total and drives a vision to prepare leaders among the youth through parliamentary simulation programmes including training on law drafting, with the support of the Head of Government. Another highly popular engagement initiative is a youth leadership programme led by the Bahrain Institute for Political Development to explain Bahrain Vision 2030, provide leadership, innovation, and nation building trainings, with guest appearances by young MPs. Bahrain’s Majlis al-Nuwab has an active partnership with Bahrain University, and various curriculums for schools. The Council is also working on lowering the age of political participation in view of enabling youth to reach leadership positions, especially through the initiative of HRH the Crown Prince to support talented graduates. The UN and other international fora highlight Bahrain’s bold contribution to the issue of youth internationally.
During the pandemic, as in many countries around the world, Bahrain adopted online schooling, with swift and efficient support from the Ministry of Education in collaboration with civil society and social enterprises, which provided educational materials. But challenges remained, especially for underprivileged students who lack internet or equipment access. Youth also felt the repercussion of Covid-19 in the labour market. Policy responses and fiscal support were high in the GCC, including strong stimulus packages for individuals and companies. The Bahrain government facilitated the renewing of work permits and supported businesses, but youths remain among the most affected by reduced work hours or employment loss. Interlinkages exist between mental well-being, educational success, and labour market integration. The National Health Regulatory Authority of Bahrain was able to adapt policies to support youths and further institutionalise mental care, and make it accessible. The Bahrain Supreme Council for Women launched a campaign and enhanced its access to psychology, family, and legal consultations.
Managing young people’s expectations:
With many initiatives moving online, participation has now become more accessible. The internet increased engagement, and outreach efforts are targeting more young people than ever, from diverse backgrounds. This makes the purpose of youth engagement and outreach efforts even more important and delicate: to manage disappointment, it is crucial that youths understand the process, its rules and possible outcomes, and are able to engage in honest communication with policymakers. This can only be achieved through clear channels of communications and a robust feedback loop that allows them to receive acknowledgment and formal responses from the concerned party to be able to further reflect and take part in wider policy discussions.
You can read our recent Guide to Parliament on Youth Participation on our website.