Democracy is in the hands of youth | Heba El-Kholy

15 Sep 2012

The quality of democratic process is increasingly questioned, as witnessed by youth rebellions in scores of countries, demanding better democratic governance. Democracy needs to be renewed, revitalized and reaffirmed as a continuous social and political process to ensure equal political participation of people in governance, irrespective of gender, cast, race and creed. 

Democracy is more than a system of government and free and fair elections. Democracy works when all people can claim their rights, fulfill their responsibilities as active citizens and demand accountability from the government. 

There is indeed a new awakening and new aspiration for better democracy and democratic governance. But young people must be given real opportunities and space to play a prominent role in this awakening. Almost 85 percent of young people live in developing countries—60 percent of them in Asia. In 2015, the population aged 15-24 years in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach 200 million.

Democracy Education, the theme of this years’ democracy day, is about educating, enabling and empowering people to internalize the core values of dignity, justice and freedom and to become responsible citizens to make democratic governance work. The quality of democracy in the coming years will be shaped by the quality of political participation of young people. Not only does a functioning democracy need effective institutions to fulfill its basic purposes; it also relies on people being aware of their rights and responsibilities. What democracy education brings is the collective commitment that democracy ought to remain a constant and constructive dialogue between the state and communities of people, demanding accountability and transparency, knowing their rights as well as obligations, and freely participating in the political processes. 

However, democracy education is also about democratizing education. In the face of the growing inequalities and multiple forms of discrimination, there is unequal access to education, further perpetuating social, economic and political inequalities. Democracy education needs to be strengthened from the level of primary education. Social and economic inequality often leads to political inequality resulting in the exclusion of people from political process and economic development.  The increasing nexus of political and economic elites dominating government and process of governance tend to create new challenges for effective democracy. 

Democracy is nurtured through political, social and economic processes. But effective transformations from authoritarian to more participatory and equitable systems take time.  They require a commitment to building a deeper understanding and greater confidence between people and the state; a new social contract, in fact, and with a view to current population data, it must target particularly the youth.  

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