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Democracy and young people

Throughout this year, I have been working on a project titled “Why do some countries transition to democracy, while others do not?” My findings will be presented at the International Conference of Undergraduate Research in Australia, Monash University, later this year.

Whilst my project is currently being reviewed prior to being published, it has led me to consider both why (and if) democracy is important, and if so, what exactly young people can do to make more countries democratic.

My first hurdle in considering this stems from actually defining what democracy is. There are two prominent definitions I considered:

  1. Schumpeter restricting the definition to simply the right to vote
  2. Dahl’s definition which focuses on the freedoms which ought to come with democracy (such as a freedom of speech, religion and press)

I feel the latter definition is most important as it takes into consideration exactly what young people should strive to achieve by looking into the values which should be held in high regard.

Assuming this definition is plausible, the benefits of democracy for young people are vast:

  1. We are the leaders of today. It is easy to ignore the voices of young people, suggesting that we are the future leaders, therefore our opinions only matter in the future. However, the democratic process can only be deemed democratic if everybody is able to engage in the process. Here, I do not suggest that every single citizen should have the right to vote from birth – this would be counterproductive. I do however, put emphasis on young people using platforms such as the UK Youth Parliament, Model Westminster and even the World Youth Organisation to share their views. This ensures young people are exposed to their community from an early age, allowing for a progressive society.
  2. Allows for legitimacy. An illegitimate government is more likely to engage in activities which pose a threat to society. The ‘democratic peace theory’ holds that democratic nations are less likely to engage in armed conflict with other democratic countries. Now, imagine a world where all countries are democratic: armed conflict would then be minimal, allowing for a truly peaceful society. For young people, this can only be beneficial: time and energy can be invested in areas which encourage research and development, rather than hinder its process.
  3. Encourages active citizenship. From the local, to the national level, democracies are more likely to encourage active citizenship from a young age, in turn allowing for a healthy society. Active citizenship involves increasing education, fostering engagement at all levels. For young people, if they start early, they are more likely to continue their involvement in later years which can only be positive.

The WYO Educate politics project strives to encourage more young people to get involved with the democratic sphere, through spreading awareness of the different ways to get involved.

However, my research has found that action needs to be taken in countries where corruption is high even at the electoral level: such as in North Korea. Those who have fled the country, wishing to remain anonymous, have argued that the best thing that western countries can do to begin the transformation to democracy is simply education and not funding the regimes.

If young people work to spread awareness of these regimes, the thought of a peaceful, democratic world may soon appear more attainable.

Shanita JETHA


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