In 1999, the UN endorsed the proposal that the 12th of August would henceforth be declared International Youth Day. This was to celebrate and mainstream the voices of young people, and to encourage and emphasise the importance of youth engagement in the political, economic and social spheres of life.
In 2020, these goals are more relevant than ever. Young people frequently demonstrate how engaged they are with the issues impacting our society. While research demonstrates that young people are becoming more disenchanted with and distrustful of the political establishment (Safi, 2016), support for the ideals of democracy (liberty, equality, and justice) among young people are strong.
The VEC is working to empower Victorians to engage with their democracy in an active and informed way. This includes tapping into the passion that young people have for rights, freedoms, and democratic ideals and translating this into active participation in our formal systems and processes of democracy. We need to demonstrate how voting is crucial to maintaining a healthy and thriving democratic society that allows for – and encourages – active civic engagement.
The VEC has undertaken many youth projects, including the highly successful Election Millennial employment drive and the ongoing 17-Year-Old Birthday Card initiative. Both projects demonstrate the VEC’s desire to engage with young people as a priority group. This is further reinforced by the Education and Inclusion team’s work with young people and partnering with youth-focussed organisations.
Passport to Democracy, our school engagement program, continues to grow and reach more young people across Victoria. This program not only teaches young people how to vote formally, but also encourages them to think about their values and the issues that concern them. It also gives young people the tools to research these issues and the skills they need to engage critically with the many and varied sources of information available to them. Additionally, young people are encouraged to consider how they can be active citizens, both during election periods and in day-to-day life. All of this is student-driven; we encourage teachers to allow their students to choose the issues they’d like to focus on. This allows students to develop not only their theoretical understanding of how they can be active in their society, but also their practical skills through being active and invested in their own education.
Listening to young people and working alongside them is a passion of the Education and Inclusion team members – evidenced by the VEC’s latest project focussed on young people. The Youth LG2020 Electoral Engagement Pilot Project is a human-centred co-design project, which invites a cross-section of young people to develop solutions to increase the enrolment and voter participation rates of young people. So far, the ideas that these young people have proposed have been inspiring, future-focused, innovative and people-driven. Those involved are dedicated, flexible, honest, and passionate. While a proportion of them currently identify as “non-voters”, a few have reported that the co-design process has increased their interest and likelihood of engagement in voting and our democratic systems more generally. We look forward to developing a range of different solutions as a result of this pilot project.
The goals of the 2020 International Youth Day are to increase youth engagement at the local and community level, the national level, and the global level. In equipping Victorian young people with the knowledge and skill to make their voice heard, and by subsequently listening to that voice, the VEC is empowering young people to actively take part in their democracy, for the good of us all.
Safi, M., 2016. Have millennials given up on democracy?. The Guardian, [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/18/have-millennials-given-up-on-democracy> [Accessed 7 August 2020].