Youth engagement for global action: not just engagement but meaningful engagement

This year’s International Youth Day theme “Youth Engagement for Global Action”, could not have come at a better time than now. Young people across the world are calling for their inclusion in governance and decision making platforms.

The United Nations (UN) defines a youth as a person between the ages of 15 and 24. This age range is 1.1 billion (18%) percent of the global population. Youth and children together, including all those aged 24 years and younger, account for nearly 40 percent of the world’s population.

Meaningful Youth Engagement is broadly defined as “a range of processes that empower young people to take an active role in all phases of decision making that affects their lives and to take up leadership roles to address and promote issues that matter most to youths.” This is something governments and civil society leaders must embrace for global sustainable development to be achieved.

Despite many countries being signatories to the Programme of Action (PoA) at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which among other key issues, called for an increase in youth participation in planning, implementation and evaluation of development activities that directly affect daily lives of youths, meaningful youth engagement has continued to be low.

In Zambia, meaningful youth engagement still remains a far-fetched reality, partly because those in positions of authority sometimes ignore what we as youths can do and the role we can play in moving the development agenda of the country and the globe. This is true even when youths have the education and skills required. The excuse often advanced is that we, the youths, do not have experience. But how are we going to have the experience when we are not given an opportunity to gain it?

There is also a fear amongst those in authority that once a youth is meaningfully engaged then the youth might get their job.

Often times what we see as meaningful youth engagement in Zambia is:

  1. Manipulation – Engaging young people in something they do not fully understand, for example, sending youths out on the streets to advocate for something without making them understand fully the subject matter and why they should be advocating for it.
  2. Decoration – Youths being invited to meetings as a mere show-off and no proper engagement taking place. At such meetings youths will be given a seat at the table and free T-shirts or political regalia if it’s a political meeting , but their roles merely end at singing, dancing and chanting slogans without any engagement. Engagement is two ways; it cannot be engagement if it is only one party speaking or benefitting.
  3. Tokenism – When youths are given a platform, it is to speak the mind of the convener of the meeting (reading a speech authored by the very same leader they are delivering the speech to). When people see such happening, they applaud and think youths are having a voice, when in essence it’s the leader speaking to himself/herself. The result of this is the suppression of the voice of the youth.
  4. Favouritism Based Youth Engagement – Only youths that sympathise with those in authority or know conveners of youth meetings seem to be meaningfully engaged.

The call on governments and civil society to meaningfully engage youths when developing strategies for youth participation and deciding the best ways to work with young people cannot be over emphasised.

The benefits when youths are meaningfully engaged are clear:

  1. The country/globe gains an understanding of youth realities and needs.
  2. The country/globe develops and benefits from an array of skills, talents innovations as well as renewed energy.
  3. It provides capacity building to youths not only for today but the future.

The globe cannot have development without the meaningful engagement of the youth. To fellow youths, let us always remember: There is nothing for the youth without the youth, let us not wait for tomorrow, for the tomorrow we were waiting for yesterday is today.


Edited by Khopotso Bodibe, MenEngage Africa Media & Communications Specialist.