Worldwide, children struggle to be heard, and it’s not difficult to see why. The average age of parliamentarians is 53, and only 22% are women. Not even a third of our elective representatives come from half the world’s population. Some 133 countries have national youth organisations, but few are consulted about policies that affect them. There is a risk in not listening to the voices of children.
We must ensure their voices are heard and acted upon
We in Plan International believe children should grow up as active citizens, aware of their rights and capable of exercising them. Political systems have been rocked in recent months by voters who have complained of marginalisation. For many it’s a case of the same old faces saying the same things, and making the same old decisions. But the difference is that people are no longer listening.
Guarding against fear
Now we are seeing real and unpredictable shifts in power. Political discourse has become angrier and louder, and fearful rhetoric has raised passions on all sides. We believe in strong democratic debate. But only if the voices and interests of children are truly heard can we address the widespread inequality and discrimination we see every day and build the just societies we want.
Fear is a powerful political tool, particularly in a world where the gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is widening.But fear does not bring real, lasting improvement, and offers little hope for the children whose lives Plan International seeks to improve. It does nothing to help engender a sense of ownership of our problems – a necessary first step in working out how to fix them – and reduces real engagement in democratic decision making. The voice of those who will inherit our decisions – children – is largely absent in much of the noisy debate we hear worldwide.
Giving children a platform to lead
This October, on International Day of the Girl, over 250 girls and young women took over positions of leadership in over 50 countries. As a symbolic act, it certainly made the headlines, but the fact that the idea of girls and young women in power was actual news, shows how little input they currently get to give.
We believe children should grow up as active citizens
To enable young people – particularly girls and young women – to determine their own futures, it is critical that they gain greater influence over decisions that affect their lives. At Plan International, we fight to ensure that all vulnerable and excluded children (and particularly girls) get to participate and influence the social, economic, and political decisions that matter to them. That’s real active citizenship, and a proven pathway to fairer societies.
Given the right opportunities, girls have the power to change the world. We have the power to get them there, and must ensure their voices are heard and acted upon in the decisions that affect them.