What about a youth dimension to policy-making?

by Monica Nica

From the border with Italy we were accompanied by “the Emerald Beauty”, one of the rare rivers in the world that retain the emerald-green colour throughout their length. The beauty of the scenery on the way to Ljubljana was only matched by the beauty of the Slovenian people we have met. They gladly welcomed us within their already busy schedule, as AEGEE Ljubljana had an exchange with AEGEE Groningen during the weekend.

The 20 young people of AEGEE Groningen made their way to Ljubljana hitchhiking, in teams of two – some for just 16 hours, other for 2 days. Even the ones who arrived the latest and had to sleep in a gas station, wholeheartedly recommended hitchhiking as a means of travelling: ‘it’s something everyone should try at least once’. As I have never hitchhiked, I asked the young travellers how can one get a ride and who usually gives rides. The answers were unanimous: getting a ride is all about luck; you can stay in a gas station for 10 minutes or for 2 hours until you find someone going your way that is also willing to take you. The people giving rides to hitchhikers are very diverse, from businessmen to hippies and from families to truck drivers. Apparently, businessmen doing this are in large numbers, as they usually travel alone. This reveals an only natural human need for connection with others, as not even businessmen are not islands.

Although they had a full schedule during the day, the young Dutch people lived up to their AEGEE reputation of being the most active and engaged, which sometimes can attract sneers from other nationalities. Their active participation rendered some interesting, and at times heated discussions. Since it was a stop scheduled last minute, there was not a certain topic requested. Instead, we decided to talk with the participants about all the topics. They were divided in five groups, each receiving a question to discuss upon, after which they had to present their conclusion to the rest of the people, engaging them in the debate as well.

DSC01379One of the questions – what is the best way to defend your interests as a young person? – had a very strong opinionated respondent. Although he was as strongly contested by the rest of the group, he did not seem to budge. One of the controversial things he said was that young people protest for the wrong things, like some war in Africa or GMOs. He was trying to say that young people should focus on things closer to them, which have a more easily noticeable impact upon their lives. Also, he asserted that they should act as part of a bigger association because as individuals is harder to make a meaningful change.

This discussion made me think about another debate: should policy-making have a youth dimension, just like there is a gender or an environment one? The proponents argue that approaching youth issues in a coherent and united manner would bolster youths’ voice, giving it a stronger standing in the negotiations of different policies. I agree that lobbying as one group can be beneficial on issues where there is a common denominator. At the same time, young people are very diverse and have opinions which differ to a large extent on many issues. In cases like these, having one voice can be detrimental to the ones which do not fit in the general agreed position. The risk of exclusion from a united youth position would be especially high for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, like migrants, ethnic minorities, those at risk of poverty or social exclusion. And this exclusion would be no different than the general feeling of exclusion from mainstream forms of influencing decision-making young people presently have.