The concept of Participation for All
Democracies rely on the active engagement of all of their citizens. A healthy democracy enables and encourages all citizens to have their voices heard and contribute to democratic life. Youth participation activities can support this by helping increase the numbers of young people participating in democratic life and making sure that no one is excluded.
Participation for all is about outreach, to encourage young people who have not been engaged in democratic life before to get involved. Participation for all is also about inclusive participation, and to ensure that all young people, regardless of their background, have the equal opportunity to participate.
Some groups of young people may have fewer opportunities to participate in democratic life, when compared to other young people. This may be because of discrimination or inequality linked to:
- Ethnic or religious background.
- Gender or sexual orientation.
- Educational status.
- Living location, such as being in a rural area.
- Economic circumstances.
- Other aspects of identity and circumstances.
Effective youth participation initiatives need to avoid perpetuating inequality and should seek to challenge it whenever possible. Challenging unequal access to decision making and democracy is a fundamental part of youth participation. Youth Goal #3 ‘Inclusive Societies’ includes the target ‘Ensure that marginalized young people are participating in all decision-making processes and are key players, particularly in processes concerning their own rights, wellbeing, and interests’.
Challenging inequality in youth participation
There are two approaches to challenging inequality in youth participation, which can be combined:
- Ensure that opportunities for youth participation are accessible, inclusive, and properly communicated to all groups of young people. This means doing outreach work to contact and engage young people with fewer opportunities to encourage them to join existing projects. It involves identifying the barriers that prevent them from being involved and providing additional support to overcome these barriers. There is also a need to support young people with fewer opportunities to take on leadership positions within existing projects.
- Developing youth participation initiatives specifically for young people with fewer opportunities. Some groups of young people may find the issues they are concerned about rarely become priority topics within mainstream youth participation projects. Democratically run projects are often obliged to support the most popular issues and topics. This can leave minority concerns excluded and some voices unheard. Dedicated spaces and projects for young people from marginalised backgrounds helps prevent this. They provide space for young people who might otherwise be excluded to identify common issues and take action based on their concerns.
Participation for all requires the effective use of outreach activities. It is crucial to actively contact young people who are not already involved in youth participation and make sure they have access to the information they need to become more involved. Being informed is the first step to active participation.
Information and outreach work could mean sharing information about upcoming participation projects and opportunities a young person could join, such as the Erasmus+ Programme or European Solidarity Corps. It could also mean making sure young people have good access to information about democratic life, as well as the media and information literacy skills to engage with this.