Young MPs meet in Tokyo to counter youth alienation and disengagement

More than half the world’s population is aged under 30. Yet fewer than one-in-fifty of our parliamentarians are.

At the IPU’s recent Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians in Tokyo, the challenges of engaging young people in the democratic process, creating economic opportunities for them, and tackling conflict in young nations, were at the forefront.

Mrs Jaren Makishima, Member of the Japanese National Diet, oversaw proceedings. As the UK Parliament’s representative through BGIPU, I had the privilege of travelling to Japan for the two day event. I reflected on what this underrepresentation means in practical terms.

I thought about the one-in-four 24 year olds who vote in the UK; and how they are dwarfed in representation by the three-in-four 60 year olds who voted in the most recent elections. This is a vicious circle, with a lack of youth representation promoting a feeling of disempowerment which in turn disincentivises political participation.

I also considered the IPU research which shows that globally, just as there is a gender imbalance across parliamentarians as a whole, less than a third of MPs under the age of 45 are women. This fact is sobering for those of us who wish to see a future where national parliaments are more representative and balanced.

I recalled the two days of debate in the House of Commons, where nearly a hundred speakers over two days debated the implications of increasing student tuition fees three-fold; and where no-one who had actually racked-up a student loan debt, got to speak.

I thought back to the many hours of discussion on youth unemployment, thankfully falling in the UK but, as in many countries, still too high, conducted without anyone aged 16-24 even in the room.

And I thought about the challenges that a young and demanding population has on the global south – their demands for better representation and delivery for young people in their own countries.

Around 190 parliamentarians from all over the world came to Tokyo for the conference, with the overarching themes of democracy, peace and prosperity. Sessions focused on youth in a world of insecurity, prosperity for young people across the globe, eliminating youth violence and peace building, and the protection of girls and young people. The outcome of the discussions was an ambitious manifesto, advocating a transformation in democratic practices and attitudes towards young people.

But outside of the main sessions, I was struck by the consistency of the experiences of young parliamentarians. Many reported a frustration of living in two worlds simultaneously.

On the one hand, they spend their time trying to represent the best interests of the young people they serve – knowing that all too often, it is a group that doesn’t reward virtue at the ballot box. On the other, the task of acting as an ambassador for a national political process to young people, is a challenging one.

Are they the cuckoos in the nest, agitating openly for youth-directed change, or do they accept that the best way to gain influence is to do so subtly by integrating with more senior colleagues?

We look forward to continuing to explore the question at the next youth assembly conference in Zambia next year.

KEY OUTCOMES

A summary of the discussions of the Conference were circulated as a press statement by the IPU at its conclusion.  It said the conference of the world’s #youngMPs in Tokyo has called for policies to end the alienation and radicalization of young people,  including new education policies and employment quotas.

The young parliamentarians attending made a series of recommendations on addressing some of the biggest challenges facing the world’s 3.5 billion youth populations. These include unemployment, discrimination and conflict.  #youngMPs affirmed their belief that despite disillusionment, apathy, political disengagement and unrest, the world’s youth aspired to democratic, peaceful and prosperous societies and their inclusion into decision-making was critical.

#youngMPs underlined the need for a comprehensive rights-based framework of action against radicalization,  such as guaranteed free education, including anti-violence and  conflict-management programmes, laws to criminalize hate speech, and involving  young people in all decisions relating to counter-terrorism.

#youngMPs called for policies to curb the alienation of young people, including the creation of  targeted opportunities to contribute to campaigns, programmes and projects at  the community level and highlighted major challenges such as youth unemployment, health, education, climate change and the need to ensure the political empowerment of youth.

The Outcome Document from the Tokyo conference is now available along with the List of Participants from the IPU website.

Gavin Shuker MP