Samara speaks at Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians

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Happening Now Tuesday, December 12, 2017 View Count = 2448

Samara speaks at Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians

On November 18th, 2017, Samara participated in the fourth Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians. The IPU is a 130 year-old international organization of Parliamentarians, with a membership representing 178 parliaments around the world. In 2013, the IPU created a Forum of Young Parliamentarians to champion youth participation in democracy. This year, the Forum held an international conference in Ottawa, hosted by the Parliament of Canada.

Mike Morden, Samara’s Research Director, attended and spoke on a panel on youth political inclusion.

38674520281_21e95791a6_kCredit: Christian Diotte, House of Commons Photo Services

I was honoured to participate in the fourth IPU Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians, and spoke on the topic of “young parliamentarians as drivers of inclusion.” This was an inspiring collection of attendees: 200 MPs, all under the age of forty, representing national Parliaments from 51 countries. “Diverse” doesn’t quite cover it.

The best part of a meeting like this is always the informal chats in hallways and over food and drinks. And in those settings, I was struck by how a clear commonality of experience emerged, despite the very different experiences and circumstances of these young parliamentarians.

MPs spoke about the frustrations that come with being young political leaders. They talked about having to prove their credibility to older colleagues and voting publics. They talked about entering public life and coming up against barriers to change and participation. They exchanged advice about how to clear these barriers, how to keep grinding and how to avoid being overcome with frustration.

Several young parliamentarians described a kind of battle on two fronts. On the one hand, they had to prove to skeptical older people that they belonged and had contributions to make.

On the other, they struggled to open the door wider for other young people who regard the institutions they participate in with skepticism. In other words, they were making the case for young political leadership to both the young and the old.

And the barriers are significant. In the IPU’s estimation, people under 30 constitute less than 2% of the world’s parliamentarians, while people under 40 are just under 15%.

Does that matter?

Unlike other excluded demographic groups, there are practical reasons to expect young people to be slightly underrepresented in Parliaments (they’re in school, or establishing careers, or starting families, for example). But this relative absence comes at a cost.

It can result in policy decisions that fail to account for the interests of young people. It can result in a style of politics which is not responsive to the demographic we should be most concerned with bringing into public life.

We’re even missing the opportunity to groom political leaders over the long-term. “Career politician” is usually meant pejoratively, but there’s evidence to suggest that public leadership is a kind of practice of its own – and that we’re not best served by only importing leaders from other fields later in their careers.

There was a lot of discussion about how to overcome the underrepresentation of youth in parliaments: through model parliaments, party youth wings, dedicated recruitment, and even quotas and reserved seats. I was left thinking that we have an array of tools available to bring a certain subset of young people in – those young people who are likely to self-select.

But achieving the parliamentary inclusion of truly disengaged young people, of young people who do not have the familiarity with and access to institutions that comes through social networks, economic standing, or family relationships? Here the challenges are structural, and there are no easy answers. But the work has to start outside of formal politics.

Watch the President of the UN General Assembly address the forum:


On the Samara BlBlog logo representing the letter 'o'g