The Covid-19 catastrophe is producing some blessings also. Worldwide we see youth-led movements launching the biggest ever crusades to bring about racial equality, social justice and to get the people involved in the battle against climate change by developing creative and imaginative sources of clean, renewable energy. Social analysts say in these movements the youth leadership is a dynamic and historic factor which could bring about major structural changes leading to the noble vision of a just and fair society.
White supremacist racism has gone on for centuries with the white colonial powers plundering the wealth and resources of third world countries and minority communities. The plunder has been so blatant that we have a devil made structure where the world’s ten super billionaires are known to own or control about 70 per cent of the world’s wealth and resources. This has led to widespread poverty with billions of people caught up in a capitalist built poverty trap where they are struggling to find the money to provide meals, shelter, food, clothing, healthcare and education for their families. So these families are born poor and die poor. That is why the social justice youth movements are so important world-wide. Social analysts hope they would gradually break the structures of largely white-racist capitalism and bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources.
It is with such a vision and goals in mind that the United Nations is marking the International Youth Day later this month. The UN says the day gives an opportunity to celebrate and mainstream young peoples’ voices, initiatives, and their meaningful, universal and equitable engagement. The celebration will take the form of a podcast-style discussion hosted by youth for youth, together with independently organised celebrations around the world. These recognise the importance of youth participation in political, economic and social life and processes.
This year’s theme is “Youth engagement for global action”. It seeks to highlight the ways in which the engagement of young people at the local, national and global levels is enriching national and multi-lateral institutions and processes. It also draws lessons on how their representation and engagement in formal institutional politics can be significantly enhanced. As the UN turns 75, and with only 10 years remaining to make the 2030 agenda a reality, trust in public institutions is eroding. At the international level, against the backdrop of an increasingly polarised world, the international system of governance is currently undergoing a crisis of legitimacy and relevance.
According to the UN, this crisis is rooted in the need to strengthen the capacity of the international system to act in concert and implement solutions to pressing challenges and threats. Examples include some of the worst contemporary conflicts and humanitarian emergencies, such as the crises in Syria and Myanmar. They also include global challenges, such as the COVID-19 outbreak and climate change. Enabling the engagement of youth in formal political mechanisms does increase the fairness of political processes by reducing democratic deficits, contributes to better and more sustainable policies, and also has symbolic importance that can further contribute to restore trust in public institutions, especially among youth.
Moreover, the vast majority of challenges humanity currently faces, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change could be effectively addressed through global action and the meaningful engagement and participation of young people. The day also seeks to put the spotlight on youth engagement through the following three interconnected streams: Engagement at the local or community level, engagement at the national level in the formulation of laws, policies, and their implementation and engagement at the global level.
Referring to the protection and mobilisation of youth in Covid-19 responses, the UN says the pandemic has resulted in severe economic and social impacts around the world. Young people are particularly vulnerable to the disruptions the pandemic has caused. Young people will form a key element in an inclusive recovery and the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) during this decade of action.
In Sri Lanka with general elections to be held on August 5, many social analysts note that in most of the major parties the leadership is like a “Mahalu Madama” with most of the leaders in their late 60’s or between the ages of 70 and 75. Action is being taken to ensure 25 per cent women representation in parliament, provincial and local councils. This is good, but it is also important to have a similar percentage of youth representation.
Legendary South African leader Nelson Mandela had a great vision and dreams, one of them being the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.