Young Palestinians prepare for politics


A young Palestinian woman learns about the finer points of democratic governance at a UNDP-supported training session. Photo: UNDP/PAPP and Sharek Youth Forum

When young people, particularly young men feel excluded and are unable to have a say in the way their communities are run, the likelihood of political violence increases.

In the West Bank and Gaza, where political issues are often resolved through violence, years of conflict and recently - political stalemate between the two main parties has resulted in a decline in civic and political participation – especially for young people.

Highlights

  • To increase awareness of democratic processes in the State of Palestine, an initiative allows young Palestinians to vote and run for election in a Palestinian Youth Legislative Council.
  • More than 23,000 young people--39 percent of whom were women--voted and 132 participants were elected members of the Youth Council.
  • Duration of the project: January 2012-December 2013.
  • Funding: US$ 3.8 from the Belgium Ministry of Development Cooperation, as part of the regional Inclusive and Participative Political Institutions in the Arab States project. US$ 63,000 from UNDP as a grant to the Sharek Youth Forum.

A new initiative, however, offers young people an opportunity to participate in democratic political processes and make their voices heard--peacefully.

Led by UNDP and the Sharek Youth Forum in the West Bank and Gaza, this youth empowerment project has been training young people to vote, campaign in elections, and become members of the country's first Youth Palestinian Legislative Council, a mock parliament that simulates the role of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

“This youth parliament is the voice of the young Palestinians,” says 22-year-old Bilal Al-Azzar, an electrical engineering student at Al Najah University in the West Bank. Since he signed up for the youth parliament, he says he has learned a lot about the political process. "We went through the same process as the real Palestinian Legislative Council – same elections regulations, committees, sessions.”

Before the elections in September 2013, more than 23,000 young Palestinians--39 percent of whom were women--turned up to vote at the first electronic polls in the region, and 132 were elected as members of the Youth Parliament. Through the initiative, young people not only learned how to make their voices heard about issues that affect their lives, but also took part in training that one day – may help them to become the country’s future leaders. During recent elections, youth registration was highest in marginalized communities, with characteristically few opportunities for civic participation, such as the Gaza strip.

To empower young Palestinians and raise their awareness about the roles and principles of a democratic society, the Sharek Youth Forum has been training teens and young adults, and travelled to various communities to offer workshops in such topics as the separation of powers, social responsibility, lobbying and advocacy, volunteer work, and information about the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government.

"This project addresses one of the most contentious issues in Palestinian society today--a lack of legitimate representation and a lack of oversight," says UNDP's Frode Mauring. “By simulating the Palestinian Legislative Council, we will be able to provide youth with an understanding of the democratic process and encourage them to express themselves through democratic channels.”

So far, the results have been promising. In Hebron, participants were able to lobby for meeting the mayor of their city to discuss the issues that most affect them--such as improving living conditions. As a result of their efforts, they received an audience and were able to speak to him directly about their concerns.

For traditionally excluded groups, such as women, who make up less than 16 percent of the Palestinian labour force, the youth parliament may bring about much needed change. Kefah Harb, a 22 year old from Nablus, heard about the project through her friends.  “It was an important experience for me as a young Palestinian,” she says. “Women are a major part of society and they need to be more involved in politics. This will give them the ability to improve their situation."