Our Perspectives

The need to boost youth participation and inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean


 The region has more than 150 million young people between 15 and 29 years but a closer look into LAC parliaments reveals that young people are scarcely represented. Photo: UNDP/El Salvador

Democracy is widely supported in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). However, institutions and policymakers don’t always enjoy the same positive perception, according to recent Latinobarómetro surveys. Young people in the region have been playing a key role in recent peaceful demonstrations that demand more effective and transparent governments. And they do so not only by taking to the streets but also by playing a role in their own communities and — increasingly — on social networks.

The region has more than 150 million young people between 15 and 29 years but has a great challenge ahead: curbing inequality in decision-making and public policy shaping. Institutionalized gaps must be closed if we want to achieve more equal societies: for women, men, lesbian, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and intersex, and people of African and indigenous descent.

A closer look into LAC parliaments reveals that young people are scarcely represented, especially women. Among members of parliament, only 2.7 percent of males and 1.3 percent of females are under 30 years old — despite the fact 1 in 4 Latin Americans is young.

Today’s young people are also the best educated in the history of LAC, and we need to facilitate their participation in decision-making, bringing in views from different groups and communities — with all their diversity. This means, of course, not only listening to them but also creating spaces and improving conditions for their effective political participation and contribution to society. It also entails a firm commitment to boost employment opportunities, to improve the quality of public education and health services and to increase access to loans. These are our youth’s demands — and we must address them.

Almost 60 percent of the more than 7 million voters in the My World survey — a UN crowdsourcing platform to assess people's priorities for the new post-2015 development agenda — are young men and women aged 16-30. More than a million young survey participants in the Americas ranked their priorities in the following order: good education, better employment opportunities, better health care, affordable and nutritious food, and honest and responsive governments.

In line with UNDP’s Youth Strategy, we work to support public policy approaches that take into account different generational needs. In our region, we have promoted the participation of young Latin Americans in consultations around the post-2015 agenda. Our youth platform JuventudConVoz.org, for example, brings together young women, men and representatives of indigenous peoples, of the LGBTI community and others, strengthening their leadership skills through training and participation in major regional meetings such as the IV Young Americas Forum, which takes place in Panama this week ahead of the VII Summit of the Americas.

More than ever, we have a unique opportunity to address the gaps between rights, expectations and policies. I firmly believe that young Latin Americans are key allies who are already involved in finding solutions within their communities and engaging in social and political movements — in spite of the scarce resources to facilitate their effective participation.

Boosting youth participation in making decisions and policies is vital — not only to improve their own lives, but also to strengthen democratic governance, reduce inequalities and pave together the region’s path toward sustainable development.

A full version of this blog was originally published by Devex.

Latin America & the Caribbean Youth Governance and peacebuilding Inclusive growth Political participation Accountability

UNDP Around the world