Half of the world’s population is under 30–but they have little say over the decisions that shape their future. It’s time for young people to be seen and heard in the halls of power

Today, our world hosts the largest generation of young people in history. But what kind of world will these young people inherit? It’s time for all generations to unite – and together tackle some of the most pressing issues facing the world. And the first step is to make sure young people are meaningfully included in decision-making spaces around the world.

Trying to solve global problems in isolation, with the same people in the same rooms, using the same solutions, doesn’t work. We need to look at systemic change so that new perspectives and perspectives can be heard. We must embrace intergenerational cooperation.

Young people have already shown that they have the ideas, spirit and commitment to bring about the positive change we collectively need, yet their voices are still under-represented in parliaments around the world.

Despite the fact that half of the world’s population is under the age of 30, only 2.6% of parliamentarians worldwide are in this age group.

If this ratio is reflected in a year, the comments of people under the age of 30 will not be displayed after only 9 days of the year.

On January 9, in solidarity with the millions of young people around the world who continue to be excluded from political decision-making spaces, we celebrated “No Saying Day” at a time when the world is facing severe systemic challenges.

Last week, world leaders gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. Davos is another stark reminder of the need for stronger and more prominent participation of young people in decision-making spaces, along with other prominent global conferences that are often criticized for their lack of communication.

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Age balance in politics is wrong

We know that the public is broadly in favor of fairer political representation for young people. According to joint research, conducted by the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth and The Body Shop, two-thirds of people agree that age balance in politics is wrong.

Numerous barriers prevent young people from having their say in public life, with our research findings similarly showing that 72% of all people of all ages believe that politicians simply do not listen to young people.

However, even in these challenging environments, young people are eager to make lasting changes at all levels. Most young people feel positive about the future and are determined to increase their participation in public life. A third of those under 30 surveyed are considering running for office, compared to only a fifth of those over 30.

People across all age groups told us that political systems are improved by giving young people a say in politics. 70% agree that younger generations will change things for the better – but while young people have the potential, they don’t yet have the power. Change can only happen through the cooperation of generations.

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Fresh perspectives for radical change

We have to change the way we make decisions. It is vital that the decisions we make today are shaped by the people whose lives are most affected by them. This means engaging young people in political dialogue and processes – and allowing them to challenge our current systems to create a society fit for the future.

We need to dispel the myths surrounding young people – that they are irresponsible, apathetic, problematic or lack the experience to make a real impact.

Even in the worst of circumstances, from humanitarian crises to the response to Covid-19, we have seen young people rise to the challenge and lead the way. There is no doubt that we need innovation, drive, creativity, and above all, the unwavering optimism of young people that a better world is possible for all.

That’s why we launched it To be seen, to be heard, a campaign to raise the voice of young people in public life around the world. We know it won’t happen overnight, but together, and over time, we can raise awareness, take action and work with governments and young people to support change.

We’ve already seen the campaign make an impact around the world—and the momentum is growing. Last year, the campaign resulted in 37,000 new young voters being registered for the US by-elections, and a letter calling for reform of Britain’s Public Order Bill was recently cited in the House of Lords. Malaysia’s voting age was lowered last year and the right to vote at 16 is set to be debated in New Zealand’s parliament after backing from outgoing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

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And we are just getting started. The campaign aims to change a law or policy or support planning to promote youth participation in public life in more than 75 countries.

From climate change to economic instability, the world’s problems are too big for old solutions to continue. Young people are energetic, thoughtful and positive about the future – and the public clearly trusts their opinions on today’s major issues.

If the generations come together at any age, we can get more young people’s voices in politics around the world every day.

David Boynton is the CEO of The Body Shop. Maria Vasilova Blazhev is the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Affairs..

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