Vulnerable groups require specific attention: The example of youth engagement
Engaging vulnerable groups in society, including young men and women, is of particular concern in a country where around 70% of the population is below 30 years of age. Despite their access to the world via new digital technologies, and a variety of civil society activities to foster their involvement in local civic life (e.g. volunteering), the lack of structures and institutions to make young people’s voices heard and foster their integration in decision-making processes is a major reason for the disengagement of many from politics today (OECD, 2016b).
The transformation of the former Higher Council for Youth and Sports into the Ministry of Youth in 2016 was a positive step to direct new attention to the specific challenges young people are facing. It is the stated objective of the ministry to integrate youth participation in political, social and cultural life, and to develop new channels to close the communication gap between both sides (Ministry of Youth Jordan, 2016). According to the Ministry of Youth, a new National Youth Strategy 2017-25 is currently being elaborated to improve the co-ordination of youth-related policies and services across different departments. Since its transformation, the ministry has invested significant efforts into improving outreach to young people through social media (as of February 2017, the Twitter account has 1 200 followers). These efforts cannot obscure the fact that young people continue to be side-lined in political decision making that affects their future. The Jordanian political analyst, Amer Sabaileh, notes that youth are not represented in the political system unless they have benefited from privileged access (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 2016).
While the disenchantment of youth from politics constitutes a major challenge (e.g. low turnout in elections, lack of awareness of government and parliamentary work), promising (grassroots) initiatives have been built in the run up to the 2016 parliamentary elections and beyond. For instance, Shaghaf, which formed in June 2016, held candidate debates at the local level to raise the transparency of election promises and hold future members of parliament accountable. The initiative is composed of young Jordanians from across the Kingdom, including poorer cities such as Zarqa and Jarash, and has rapidly grown to almost 5 000 activists, 40% of whom are young women (Yom and Al-Khatib, 2016).
Youth-led associations in Jordan have proven their innovative potential and maturity to become a partner in the open government agenda of the government. Box 4.7 presents the “Diwanieh” debate approach, organised by Leaders of Tomorrow, which is committed to the idea that more spaces for open and free dialogue are to be built, in particular at the
local level, to foster critical thinking and encourage citizens from all backgrounds to take part in political, economic and social discussions.
Box 4.7. Creating a forum for open dialogue at the local level: The example of “Diwanieh”
Diwanieh is an initiative created by the Jordanian youth-led organisation Leaders of Tomorrow which aims to create open, free, and critical debates to encourage open dialogue. The debates in public spaces bring together opinion leaders, local experts, government representatives, representatives from political parties and community members to discuss relevant socio-political issues.
The open and free debate platform aims to encourage young Jordanians to take part in political, economic and social discussions and build their skills, including critical thinking, research, public speaking and persuasive communication.
Since its inception, Leaders of Tomorrow reports that over 9 000 citizens have participated in 22 large-scale public debates across the country.
Source: Leaders of tomorrow (2017), Diwanieh webpage, www.leadersot.org/initiatives/diwanieh/
(accessed 17 February 2017).
So far, youth (led) associations and youth demands are absent in the open government discourse in Jordan. The examples of Finland10 and Tunisia11 illustrate that the National Action Plan for the OGP can be used to anchor youth-related commitments and, given the cross-sectorial scope and ambition of the plan, expose them to government-wide attention and international scrutiny (see Box 4.8).
Box 4.8. Youth in the open government agenda in Tunisia
Tunisia’s second National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership aims to adapt innovative, participatory and transparent approaches in the design and implementation of public policies. With commitment 11 (“Developing new mechanisms to promote interaction with the youth and enable them to pursue dialogue about public policies”), the plan acknowledges the readiness of young men and women to become agents for open government principles and practices, and the need to create effective mechanisms in this respect.
By July 2018, the plan foresees:
- 1. The development of an e-platform for youth to provide feedback on the delivery of public services.
- 2. The creation of local councils with representatives from CSOs and government and a “significant presence” of young people to establish a mechanism through which young people can express their demands and priorities, to which (local) government ought respond.
Source: Republic of Tunisia (n.d.), Open Government Partnership: 2nd National Action Plan 2016-2018, Ministry of Public Service and Governance, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/countries/tunisia.