In 2020, the South African government had to lead more strategically and with a sense of urgency in response to the socio-economic challenges that were exacerbated by COVID-19 and lockdown.
As young people, it is our responsibility to hold the government accountable, especially because we bear the brunt of the challenges related to COVID-19, like not being able to study online because we do not have the means to do so.
To foster youth participation in policy processes, Youth Lab and Youth Capital hosted a series of trainings. These sessions sought to provide a platform for young people to engage with subject experts in the policy landscape and share their knowledge on what is required for young people to influence policy in South Africa, particularly in light of the draft of the National Youth Policy (NYP) 2020-2030.
In a WhatsApp training session on policy processes, Tessa Dooms – a policy analyst with extensive experience and expert knowledge in governance, youth development, and innovation – explored the idea that democracy gives us the right to participate in the decisions made by our elected leaders, because we will experience the consequence of those decisions.
Tessa began the session by asking participants what democracy means to them. She did this to draw links between what democracy embodies and the power young people have to influence policy. She shared 6 important insights to bring home the point that being an engaged citizen in a democracy is not limited to the occasional act of voting.
INSIGHT 1 – Democracy is more than a vote.
It is a process of ensuring that the people of a country govern themselves. Governing ourselves can’t be reduced to a single action every 5 years. It must be a continuous process of knowing what is being done on our behalf, telling those who have been elected to represent us based on what we want them to do, and making sure our desired actions and outcomes are realized.
INSIGHT 2 – Government vs Governance.
Policy is just one tool of governance among many others, like consultation, legal action, delegation, and implementation. Our job is not to simply give someone our vote and then sit back, but to insist on being a part of every possible process of governance.
Policy is both policy documents by government departments and laws passed by parliament. We get to participate in government and governance. We know we can elect the politicians that run government, including parliament.
But it’s in governance that we have the most ongoing power. We have every right to be, and must insist on being, involved in making policies and laws, and making sure they are implemented effectively. That’s what a participatory democracy is about.
INSIGHT 3 – What is youth policy and why does it matter?
Policy creates a set of principles that guide the ideas that determine governance, the priority actions that will be taken, who will benefit, and who will do the work.
Youth policy is any policy that determines directly or indirectly the governance actions that should benefit young people. We think the law shapes our lives more directly than policies made by government.
But as young people we must not only know the law because you have to obey it, you must know policy because it’s the agenda that is used to make decisions that could have a major impact on your life.
To understand some of the steps in policy and law making we can research the relevant:
- Green paper
- White paper
- Bill amendment
- Passing of the bill.
- Public consultation
INSIGHT 4 – All policy is youth policy.
Remember that 60% of SA is 35 years old or under. That means that all policies whether they say youth on them or not, affects young people’s lives. An example of a direct youth policy is the National Youth Policy (NYP).
But examples of indirect policies are education policies and policies about internet infrastructure, where the words youth may not appear but both of those impact on young people’s lives.
INSIGHT 5 – Designing youth policy around young people.
Every policy, whether directly or indirectly dealing with youth issues, must answer the following questions, if it is going to make young people’ lives better:
- Who are the youth?
- What is the goal of youth development?
- What is the picture of success when you know a young person has benefited?
- What are youth issues and priorities?
- What actions will be taken to directly or indirectly benefit youth?
- Who will do those actions?
- How will young people be involved in the development of the ideas and the implementation of the actions?
INSIGHT 6 -Who counts as “Youth”?
As a county we need to decide who counts as youth. Youth isn’t a number, it’s a transition from being a child to being an adult. By law people become adults at 18. We need a definition of youth that’s based on successful transitions not age. We want young people to have certain opportunities, and learn certain skills before they will be considered adults ready to tackle life in South Africa.
We need programmes, and an intentional timeline for providing support,- like psycho-social support, character development support, career support, and education support so that we can say that we have done all that we can to help youth successfully become thriving adults.
All youth policy must derive from answering the question about who counts as youth. Whether it’s the public transport policy, or the Home Affairs Department or the Department of Housing, if all departments have a common goal for youth development they will have good youth policies.
Because young people’s lived experiences can be changed for the better by the policies made by our leaders, participating in how policies are conceived and constructed is our democratic right, and responsibility.