Being the largest chunk of Pakistan’s population (64%), young people are seen as agents of change – a group which if given the opportunity can re-shape the future of the country. It is indeed a hopeful scenario especially as youth development is consistently featuring high on the government’s agenda and is a unanimous priority for different political parties in Pakistan.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) realizes this demographic dividend is a unique opportunity and the Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) is making intensive efforts to invest in the agency of young people and in facilitating their active linkages with the policy makers. In partnership with Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), young people were brought face to face with policy makers at provincial and national level to catalyze youth led critical discourse with the following objectives:
a. Build confidence and agency among young people and enable them to articulate their concerns in an effective manner
b. Sensitize policy makers and provide them with an opportunity to meaningfully engage with and attend to youth voices across the country
c. Facilitate networking/linkages between young people and policy makers for continued engagement and subsequent policy actions advancing youth development agenda
Witnessing the discourse in Punjab, Sindh, KhyberPakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and the federal capital spanned across 2018 - it became apparent that the demands of young people across the country resonated with each other. The young lot sought adequate opportunities for quality education, support for agency building, guidance for and access to gainful employment, an ear to attend to their issues/feedback and a place on the decision-making table.
Shared frustrations of youth across Pakistan included bans on student unions, obsolete curriculum, lack of support and guidance for self-employment and inadequate attention to mainstream vulnerable groups (women, gender minorities, religious minorities, disabled young people etc.).
While YEP has played an instrumental role in enabling young people to arrive in the policy circles – much is still left to be done. How can such engagement and interface between young people and policy makers be sustained? How should mechanisms for accountability against policy commitments made be established and monitored? How to bring in media, academia, civil society and private sector to the discussion for multi-stakeholder, diverse partnerships enabling optimal youth engagement and policy actions? How can youth be capacitated and positioned to ensure youth centric and responsive decision making takes place? What can be feedback loops to realistically ascertain the extent of youth’s centrality and participation in the policy making processes impacting them?
UNDP continues to support both young people and policy makers for bridging the gaps. However, ownership by the government along with a will for change coupled with young women and men taking charge themselves is required for young people to truly influence policies and decisions.
In the words of Robert Kennedy: “This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.”