Needing A Longer Runway: Inspiring Young Women’s Political Engagement

Participants in NDI Kosovo's 2017 Week of Women discuss citizen concerns with political leaders.

Take a moment to reflect on what you wanted to become when you were eight years old—which, if you are a woman, was when you were at your most confident. How did that change by the time you turned eighteen? For those who were (or are) aspiring politicians, you might be interested to know that research in the U.S. says girls are equally politically confident—for example, in running for class president and student councils—as boys until high school, when it drops by half. NDI’s Gender, Women and Democracy team has taken on the task of finding out what this political confidence gap looks like on a global scale and, more importantly, how to address it.

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How to help youth strengthen their participation and influence

Surging youth activism and leadership has the potential to change the world. Accordingly, young people are increasingly being recognized as indispensable agents for sustainable development and the source of a demographic dividend. But more work is necessary to support their active engagement and satisfy young people’s desire to have more than just a seat at the table. To help meet this need, NDI recently developed a unified theory of change, illustrated in the graphic above, which depicts the process of institutionalizing meaningful youth political participation.

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Fighting for Ethnic and Religious Tolerance in Central Europe: Muneeb’s Story

Muslim in faith, Czech at heart: Muneeb leads fellow participants from the Czech Republic and Slovakia at a recent NDI gathering on joint responses to growing religious and ethnic intolerance  

Muneeb has a quiet reserve that gives way to a beaming smile when you ask him about his work and life. A long-time resident of Brno, the capital of the Moravian region of the Czech Republic, Muneeb’s English is halting, so he is quick to turn to Czech, his everyday language for three decades. Muneeb is married, a father, and runs the Czech Center for Muslim Communities. He reserves his native Arabic for family and spiritual matters.

For Muneeb and other longtime residents of Muslim faith—many if not most Czech citizens—the refugee crisis has lifted the curtain on some unpleasant realities. The unprecedented wave of humanity from the greater Middle East has elicited sympathy and aid from many quarters of Czech society. But many express fear about what the presence of foreigners means for their safety and identity—although few if any refugees have actually set foot on Czech soil, much less settled there.

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“Youth Bulge” is Making Waves In Nigerian Politics

NDI staff Lauren Kitz and Jesper Frant lead YIAGA through a visioning and reflection workshop on its #NotTooYoungToRun campaign.

Margaret Mead is quoted as saying, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” In late February, I traveled to Abuja, Nigeria to meet with one such group of thoughtful, committed citizens.

The Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) is one of Nigeria's preeminent youth organizations. YIAGA, along with the Youngstars Development Initiative (YDI), has conducted a very successful advocacy effort to lower the eligibility age to run for elected office in Nigeria. From humble beginnings, the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign has grown into a national movement.

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Citizen participation: What’s ART got to do with it?

Art? You mean music, street theater, dance, visual art or radio dramas? 

The Civic Update is a production of NDI’s Citizen Participation Team which highlights innovative practices, approaches and lessons from NDI programs. The January 2017 video edition, Art for Campaigning, focuses on how NDI has supported local partners to use art as part of their organizing. It includes examples from the Central African Republic, Guatemala, Kosovo, Macedonia, Nepal and Nigeria.

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Youth are driving change in Latin America

Latin Americans discussing youth political participation

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Twelve young Latin American political leaders and activists recently gathered in Guatemala for an NDI-led workshop on youth political participation. Conversations ranged from what motivates youth to get involved in politics, to how sociocultural norms about youth affect their work, and what tactics youth have used to elevate their political voices in their home countries of El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico. Amidst widespread myths about youth political apathy, these diverse young activists represent a generation that is motivated to build more inclusive, democratic societies.

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Lebanese Students Tackle Road Repair

Breakout group discusses the best way to approach their local municipality to address road repair.

In Lebanon, which is surrounded by countries in crisis, real power is held at the local level. The national government is trusted to protect borders and provide security, but it is the local municipality that largely provides basic services. Yet understanding how municipalities work is a challenge in Lebanon. Budgets are not made public and municipal websites are nonexistent, even in Beirut. Political parties hold power and corruption can be systemic. Youth in Lebanon do not have much opportunity in school to learn about democracy, the role of municipalities, or how they can be involved in governance. Determining how to have an impact can be difficult when the political system is so opaque. To help address this problem, NDI has been working for several years to empower youth and women to play a greater role in politics. The NDI team in Lebanon is working with local partners, such as NABAD, to provide basic training on how to impact political decisions at the municipal level. Hundreds of youth have already been trained and some have even run and been elected to office.

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Youth Want More Than a Seat at the Table

During an NDI workshop in Kosovo, a participant displays the message for a inter-ethnic advocacy campaign. Arta Qorri

International Youth Day 2016 comes at a time when the United Nations and other members of the international development community are recognizing youth as champions for sustainable development. This reflects an ongoing shift in perspectives from fearing the ‘youth bulge’ as a problem to be solved, to partnership with young women and men as leaders and a demographic dividend that can accelerate global progress. Today’s youth – the most connected, educated and open-minded generation the world has seen – have the power to foster innovative and transformative change.

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Thinking Politically Means Thinking About Elections

Environmental activist from Macedonia talks with a voter about campaign to clean up pollution sites ahead of the 2013 mayoral elections.

Elections are often treated by donors and development practitioners as discrete events that require process-oriented support; like ensuring registration, campaigning, voting and vote counting standards are met. There has been much less emphasis on putting elections to work to advance the collective socio-economic interests of citizens. Financial or technical support to strengthen an election process may result in one that is more inclusive and fair, but even the most credible elections do not guarantee a government that will address citizen needs.

Recently, NDI undertook a review of programs that show how elections can advance the collective interests of citizens. We compiled lessons from NDI programs in Malawi, Macedonia and Turkey to demonstrate the value of taking advantage of election periods during strategic campaigns. Our new website, Putting Elections to Work for Accountability, compiles the findings of the review and features case studies of campaigns in Malawi, Macedonia and Turkey. The

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Four New Resources on Thinking and Working Politically

150 schools in Jordan are implementing NDI’s Youth Political Participation Program (Ana Usharek Schools) involving 3,053 students across Jordan. The program aims to promote civic education among students, involve them in projects serving their communities and introduce ways to effectively participate in political and public life. Photo Credit: Dareen Al-khoury

Each week NDI’s Citizen Participation team provides a resource to assist NDI staff in meeting the objectives of their programs. The past month’s resources discussed the need to better understand the thinking and working politically (TWP) framework in development programming, described the importance of integrating politics into development efforts to improve service delivery for poor populations, introduced a research and advocacy framework to support community organizing, and shared effective strategies to improve social accountability approaches. These resources provide tools and insights that can equip citizens and civil society with politically informed approaches to achieve better development outcomes and facilitate positive change.

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