UN Campaign to Attract Young People in Politics

Be Seen Be Heard Promoting youth participation and amplifying young voices in public life. Photo: Be Seen Be Heard Campaign
Be Seen Be Heard Promoting youth participation and amplifying young voices in public life. Photo: Be Seen Be Heard Campaign

Almost half the world’s population is under 30. Yet, they make up only 2.6% of parliamentarians around the world. The average age of a world leader is currently 62. 

Of all the parliaments in the world, 37% do not have a single Member of Parliament (MP) under age 30 and less than 1% of these young MPs are women.

Young people have the right to be included in political decisions that affect them, however, numerous barriers prevent their participation. The Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth and The Body Shop are collaborating to change this through the global Be Seen Be Heard campaign to amplify youth voices in public life.

The campaign seeks to create long-term structural changes to decision-making to be more inclusive of young people. It was launched on May 11 with the release of a joint report, ‘Be Seen Be Heard: Understanding young people’s political participation’. 

The report is a snapshot at a critical moment to understand preconceptions and structural barriers preventing young people from participating in public life, along with recommendations to address these challenges for the benefit of societies around the world.

The report includes findings from a survey carried out by The Body Shop in December 2021, covering 26 countries with 27,043 respondents in total, over half of whom were under age 30.

The research found that 82% of people surveyed agree that political systems need drastic reform to be fit for the future. Across the board, 84% of people described politicians as ‘self-interested’ and 75% of people surveyed think politicians are corrupt. Three quarters of people under age 30 felt that politicians and business leaders have ‘messed things up’ for people and the planet.

The majority, two in three people, also agree that the age balance in politics is wrong, with 8 in 10 people of all ages believing the ideal voting age (the age when someone can first vote) is 16 to 18, despite that in most countries around the world the voting age is 18 or over.

A third of those under age 30 surveyed would consider running for office versus only a fifth of those over age 30. People across all age groups agree that more opportunities for younger people to have a say in policy development and/or change would make political systems better.

The report supports the fact that there is a chronic lack of faith in political systems but a clear appetite for more youth representation from all age groups. Learnings such as these will inform grassroots campaign actions around the world. 

These actions, outlined in the report, include a wide range of structural changes in political systems. Among other actions, young people’s participation in public decision-making could be improved long-term by:

lowering voting ages

increasing formal youth representation through youth councils, parliaments, or committees

removing barriers for young people to participate in public decision-making

simplifying registration for first-time voters

improving young people’s leadership skills

The collaboration between The Body Shop and the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth will mean that young people and other stakeholders will be able to engage with the campaign through many routes. 

Local campaign activations will include partnerships with specific youth-led or youth-focused non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and/or opportunities to support through petitions and other activations.

The campaign is launching globally in May 2022 and will run until mid-2025.

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Rakesh Raman