Engaging Youth in Parliaments to Advance Gender Equality

Getting Started

Youth, and in particular young women, are important stakeholders for parliaments to engage in their efforts to advance gender equality. This is a central premise of the work that ParlAmericas, Caribbean Women in Leadership (CIWiL), and the National Forum of Women in Political Parties of Panama (FONAMUPP) carry out to promote gender-responsive legislative work and women’s political leadership. Furthermore, youth engagement is critical for democratic strengthening: given that only 2% of parliamentarians worldwide are under the age of 30, and that women are still under-represented in almost all parliamentary institutions, the promotion of young women’s leadership is crucial for achieving representative democracy. Additionally, the inclusion of transformational youth leaders – committed to redefining gender and power relations and addressing the root causes of development challenges – is recognised as significant to upholding the broader democratic principles and pillars of peace and security, economic and social progress and development, and respect for human rights.

 

Through the Women’s Political Leadership project, ParlAmericas partners with CIWiL and FONAMUPP to advance initiatives that support women leaders in the Americas and the Caribbean, including young women. This has included the implementation of political leadership programs, such as the Young Women in Leadership and the Youth Legislative Impact programs, as well as various activities, knowledge resources, and strategies to enhance the connections between youth and parliamentary institutions.

 

This toolkit presents the lessons learned from the organisations’ collaborative work to promote youth leadership for gender equality in parliaments. By proceeding through the modules below, you will learn about:

 

  • The critical role of young women’s leadership for gender equality, and the importance of enabling their political participation
  • Concrete strategies and mechanisms for gender-responsive youth participation in parliaments
  • Gender equality priorities identified by young leaders through our activities and programs
  • Strategies to support young leaders, including the importance of self-care and the role of intergenerational partnerships to foster inclusive political spaces

Getting Started

Youth, and in particular young women, are important stakeholders for parliaments to engage in their efforts to advance gender equality. This is a central premise of the work that ParlAmericas, Caribbean Women in Leadership (CIWiL), and the National Forum of Women in Political Parties of Panama (FONAMUPP) carry out to promote gender-responsive legislative work and women’s political leadership. Furthermore, youth engagement is critical for democratic strengthening: given that only 2% of parliamentarians worldwide are under the age of 30, and that women are still under-represented in almost all parliamentary institutions, the promotion of young women’s leadership is crucial for achieving representative democracy. Additionally, the inclusion of transformational youth leaders – committed to redefining gender and power relations and addressing the root causes of development challenges – is recognised as significant to upholding the broader democratic principles and pillars of peace and security, economic and social progress and development, and respect for human rights.

 

Through the Women’s Political Leadership project, ParlAmericas partners with CIWiL and FONAMUPP to advance initiatives that support women leaders in the Americas and the Caribbean, including young women. This has included the implementation of political leadership programs, such as the Young Women in Leadership and the Youth Legislative Impact programs, as well as various activities, knowledge resources, and strategies to enhance the connections between youth and parliamentary institutions.

 

This toolkit presents the lessons learned from the organisations’ collaborative work to promote youth leadership for gender equality in parliaments. By proceeding through the modules below, you will learn about:

 

  • The critical role of young women’s leadership for gender equality, and the importance of enabling their political participation
  • Concrete strategies and mechanisms for gender-responsive youth participation in parliaments
  • Gender equality priorities identified by young leaders through our activities and programs
  • Strategies to support young leaders, including the importance of self-care and the role of intergenerational partnerships to foster inclusive political spaces

Did You Know?

The Generation Equality Forum, held in 2021, has begun a five-year journey to accelerate ambitious action and implementation on global gender equality, with a strategy that emphasises the participation and contributions of youth. The Forum generated $40 billion in financial commitments, as well as multiple policy and program commitments through multi-stakeholder Action Coalitions.

Parliamentary initiatives for youth can be avenues to support youth political participation and gender-responsive leadership and action within the legislature and by participants. To do so, the programs and activities must seek to create meaningful connections between civil society (and youth in particular) and parliamentarians. It is also important that these programs facilitate constructive dialogue between youth and decision-makers on issues of importance to youth and model positive forms of leadership.

When designed in these ways, parliamentary youth programs and the connections they establish, based on mutual respect and knowledge sharing, can greatly contribute to the fulfillment of shared goals, expand the topics debated in the legislature, foster more inclusive policy-making processes, and promote parliamentary openness and democratic strengthening. In addition, civic education efforts that allow youth to learn about parliaments and see the opportunity for positive change that can be achieved in these spaces support them in becoming and remaining politically active and engaged members of society.

Concrete examples of such programs and activities, based on learning and initiatives by ParlAmericas, CIWiL, and FONAMUPP, include:

Participatory leadership workshops

Workshops, both online and in person, can provide a productive space for dialogue between youth leaders, parliamentarians, and subject matter experts on a variety of gender equality issues. It is important to conceptualise them as an opportunity for a two-way knowledge transfer and provide spaces for youth to contribute to the conversation, whether through presentations or participatory exercises.

Leadership workshops have been an integral part of YWiL and ILJ programs. Some examples of successful exercises and methodologies include:

  • Town-hall sessions with parliamentarians, where youth participants can exchange ideas with decision-makers about a specific topic
  • The “Privilege Walk” exercise , which demonstrates the concept of intersectionality and encourages consideration of its impact in policy-making
  • Public policy analysis workshops that ask youth to apply a gender-lens to a specific issue, guided by parliamentarians and subject matter experts

Youth parliaments and simulated parliamentary sittings

Youth parliaments are an effective citizen participation mechanism for participants to become more familiarised and connected with the legislative process. Panama’s Youth Parliament, which has been organised on a consistent basis since 2002, brings high school students from across the country to the National Assembly to learn about the legislative process and collaboratively work on mock bills -- which, on some occasions, have been championed by parliamentarians and became national laws. Similarly, national parliaments in countries across the Caribbean host annual National Youth Parliaments (NYPs) where participants are trained in debate and parliamentary procedure to participate in a simulated sitting of the legislature either as members of the legislature or parliamentary authorities. 

The YWiL program follows a similar methodology but expands upon the themes of training to include transformational leadership, gender equality, and applying a gender lens in decision-making processes. Participants then apply this learning in the preparation of their contributions to simulated parliamentary sittings, which also focus on a bill or motion on a gender equality theme. The sitting, which is televised and widely shared at the national level, gives participants the opportunity to share innovative proposals on priority policy themes and learn about parliamentary protocol in an immersive way. It also encourages public discussion on gender equality topics. 

Gender equality learning can also be incorporated into the annual NYPs offered by parliaments. The Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago has included a training module on gender sensitivity in legislation in its program, which was developed in partnership with ParlAmericas. Other NYPs, such as those in Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis, have hosted debates on gender equality themes as part of national commemorations of International Women’s Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Consultations with youth and youth-led CSOs

It is a good parliamentary practice to conduct consultations with civil society experts that include youth and youth-led CSOs. Individuals and organisations focused specifically on women’s rights, gender equality, or gender-responsive approaches to different issues should be included among the rosters of specialists in these spaces. From inviting them to be expert witnesses in committee hearings, to conducting national youth polls, to inviting youth to speak at national and international conferences, there are many ways to incorporate youth perspectives into the legislative process. Youth inclusion is incorporated in all Gatherings of the different ParlAmericas networks through Parliamentary Dialogues with Civil Society and Youth Representatives.

Production of knowledge resources

Parliaments can support the creation of resources that aim to increase public knowledge – and particularly that of children and young people – on the parliamentary system. Good regional examples include children’s books that illustrate the purposes and procedures of parliament, like those created by the Senate of Canada, the National Assembly of Guyana, and the Congress of Boys and Girls portal created by the Congress of Argentina.

Another example is the children's book Elena and the Ants: A Team to the Rescue, produced by FONAMUPP with the support of ParlAmericas, which relays the story of Elena, an Indigenous girl who mobilises her community to protect the health of their local river. Elena meets with the parliamentarian from her district and is invited to the National Assembly to talk about her project. The book has been approved for use within Panama’s education system and has been distributed in the National Assembly and to many libraries across the country. It provides children with examples of citizen participation, inclusive leadership, and environmental sustainability.

Co-creation of policy recommendations

One of the most impactful participation strategies is to incorporate youth inputs directly into the policy-making process. Through the ILJ Panama project, participants co-created a citizen’s initiative to promote and regulate  ecotourism in the country through a gender-responsive and intersectional lens and submitted this to the National Assembly. The citizen’s initiative was deemed viable and is now eligible to be discussed at the committee level in the National Assembly.

Similar processes can be replicated in parliamentary systems that do not have a submission mechanism for citizen’s bills. Youth leaders and youth-led CSOs can be encouraged to produce policy recommendations to inform and strengthen the work of parliamentarians. Providing training or creating materials to guide youth through such processes would be useful to help enable their success.

 

 

 

In recent years, the growing activism and social and political movements led by the hemisphere’s youth have been essential in denouncing inequalities exacerbated by sexism, racism, and other forms of systemic discrimination, as well as in putting relevant issues on the public agenda. Young experts have drawn attention to a wide variety of topics through various ParlAmericas, CIWiL, and FONAMUPP activities in recent years. Five priority areas that youth leaders have emphasised are outlined below:

Climate change and environmental sustainability

Youth are at the forefront of the calls to address the climate crisis and promote environmental sustainability, and often advocate for an inclusive approach to such action. During the 12th Gathering of the ParlAmericas’ Parliamentary Network for Gender Equality (PNGE), a working group of young leaders and parliamentarians contributed to the final declaration by proposing the substantive inclusion of youth organisations in the preparation of national plans to address climate change and the importance of incorporating a gender-responsive lens in this process. Similarly, the 5th Gathering of the ParlAmericas Parliamentary Network on Climate Change featured a Parliamentary Dialogue with Civil Society and Youth Representatives in which legislative strategies were discussed to ensure that short and long-term climate plans are developed with an intersectional lens. Within the ILJ Panama citizen’s initiative on ecotourism, participants added considerations for women entrepreneurs and proposed inclusive environmental education strategies that incorporate Indigenous knowledge.

Social inclusion and intersectionality

As a group that is under-represented in decision-making spaces, youth (and in particular young women) often advocate for enhanced participation of young people in parliament and other decision-making spaces. Many youth also apply an understanding of intersectionality as a key principle in their advocacy for more inclusive decision-making and advocate more broadly for greater inclusion of other under-represented or marginalised groups, including rural leaders, members of the LGBTQ+ community, Indigenous leaders, and many others.

Further, young leaders have applied an intersectional lens in dialogues in leadership programs to draw attention to the angles of issues that may have been missed. For instance, in YWiL parliamentary interventions young women have advocated for a differentiated approach to food security efforts to meet the needs of rural populations, and through the ILJ program participants ensured the incorporation of measures to make ecotourism facilities more accessible to persons with disabilities.

Holistic healthcare and co-responsibility in care work

Youth advocate on a wide range of health topics, from increasing mental health supports during COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, to addressing period poverty to ensure all individuals have access to needed menstrual products, to expanding access to reproductive and sexual healthcare and rights. Young people are also part of calls to promote co-responsibility in care work, calling for state actors to recognise unpaid care work and invest in solutions that distribute responsibilities more equitably, breaking down traditional gender norms around care tasks.

Gender-based violence

Young women are at the forefront of movements to eradicate gender-based violence, such as #NiUnaMenos (Spanish for “Not one [woman] less”) that denounces femicides in Latin America, and #LifeInLeggings that focuses on sexual harassment in the Caribbean. These movements call for the elimination of violence at all levels, from the family to the institutional and societal levels. In addition, young leaders have championed global campaigns such as the 16 Days for Activism against Gender-Based Violence and UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women.  

In different spaces, including in the YWiL parliamentary sittings and the 13th PNGE Gathering on gender-responsive and data-driven social protection systems, young leaders have brought up these critical issues, noting how the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the fragility of social protection systems and persistent problems like domestic and political violence.

Equity in education and the workplace

Youth have recognised the importance of equitable access to education and workforce opportunities in a variety of settings. During the 12th PNGE Gathering, a working group of young leaders and parliamentarians agreed that promoting education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is necessary for the labour force of the future, noting that women are under-represented in these fields. As part of the ILJ Panama project, youth included comprehensive education reforms as a key strategy to promote eco-friendly practices in tourism.

The need to ensure continuous access to quality education and employment – and the systems and technologies which facilitate this – in the COVID-19 context was also an advocacy priority for youth who took part in the 13th PNGE Gathering on inclusive social protection. Particular attention was drawn to the importance of providing needed supports for rural youth, those living in poverty, and others who may have more difficulty accessing technology tools that facilitate remote participation.

Leadership programs like Young Women in Leadership and Youth Legislative Impact aim to provide tools for leaders of all ages to establish intergenerational partnerships, recognising that a multitude of actors are needed to foster and sustain youth political leadership. This section provides good practices for young leaders and their intergenerational allies to enable sustainable youth leadership for gender equality.

For young leaders

The additional barriers that youth face in exercising their political rights, in addition to the challenges of advancing gender equality in potentially adverse environments, can lead to overwork, stress, and even burnout. Backlash, trolling, and harassment are often used to silence those challenging unequal power structures and create distressing realities faced by many women leaders. Additionally, young leaders often do their gender equality advocacy in a volunteer capacity, or on top of full-time work or education.

Therefore, it is important for young leaders to pay attention to their own mental health, especially in the midst of multiple priorities that may appear to be more pressing. Self-care and establishing healthy boundaries can become important strategies for building resilience and maintaining efforts in the face of the additional pressures and barriers that young leaders may face. Truly grounding one’s leadership in a feminist approach requires a commitment to fostering holistic wellbeing for individuals, teams, and communities.

Here are some resources to support young leaders in prioritising their mental health:

Relying on strong networks of fellow gender equality advocates has also proven to be a good practice for overall wellbeing and effective leadership. These networks are an important source of resources, opportunities, and most importantly, mutual support among leaders of all ages.

For youth allies

Experienced parliamentarians and civil society leaders can be crucial allies for young political leaders, using their positions of influence, networks, and expertise to open doors and create safe spaces for the new generations. Some strategies that they can implement include:

  • Ensuring that young leaders in parliament or within political parties have access to important information and are involved in key conversations
  • Avoiding harmful stereotypes, including ageism, that inhibit youth’s full participation in politics and decision-making spaces
  • Supporting the design and implementation of mechanisms for youth participation in parliaments, such as the ones highlighted in this toolkit
  • Considering internship and mentorship opportunities to employ and train young leaders
  • Incorporating consultations with youth as a regular practice in the legislative process, especially when proposing bills that directly impact young people.

 

“Experiences with parliaments are so important. When ParlAmericas and CIWiL organised YWiLTT, I sat there (in Trinidad and Tobago’s Parliament, during the historic all-women parliamentary sitting) and thought to myself: ‘I can actually be here one day.’ It was very empowering. I think those experiences need to happen often.”

Ms. Ashlee Burnett

Gender equality activist and YWiLTT 2020 participant

 

“Part of the challenges associated with our societies is the multiplicity of ideas, perspectives, life experiences, and ideologies, which are also present among members of different generations. Thus, it is necessary to build greater intergenerational cooperation to achieve common gender equality goals.”

Ms. Solangel Robinson

Young leader and member of FONAMUPP

 

“I am the first youth parliamentarian who has achieved the opportunity to be in the National Assembly in my own seat. And that means that everything you are discussing today must materialize into something real, palpable, into something that you can transcend into the future and transform it into initiatives that have a real impact on the citizens of this country, and even the world... We have to have many sessions like [Youth Legislative Impact], that allow people to prepare for the challenge that it means to lead a State from the National Assembly.”

Juan Diego Vásquez

     Honourable Member of the National Assembly (Panamá)

 

“A youth-friendly parliament would involve having young people around. Mentorship, giving them opportunities. Making it clear that ‘this is your house,’ not a mystical place, but one where we work for the people. It would involve having parliamentarians giving spaces to young volunteers in their constituencies to incorporate their inputs.”

The Honourable Jean Augustine

Former parliamentarian (Canada)

Good Practices

The good practices that follow have been shared by parliamentarians and other stakeholders. They describe techniques for engaging men in gender equality initiatives.