Governance: Helping youth better understand democracy

Published: May 20, 2013

The project will only take on board individuals falling in the 18 to 29 age bracket. PHOTO: FILE

LAHORE: As many as 1,000 people in 18 districts across the country said all of them would vote in the general elections even though only 20 per cent of them had voted previously.

The District Democracy Forums held under the Strengthening Youth Organisations in Pakistan for Democracy (SYOPD) received the responses from May 3 to May 9.

The forums were one of the interventions planned under the SYOPD project, funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund.

“The project hopes to enhance the understanding of democracy and governance issues while addressing the capacity building needs of organisations working in the social development sector,” said Muhammad Shahzad Khan, the Executive Director of Chanan Development Association, the organisation responsible for implementing the project.

CDA, a youth-led organisation, will work to engage as many as 150 social development organisations dealing with youth, women and minorities under the project.

“The idea is to promote a better understanding of democratic processes especially as the country is witnessing a transfer of power from one elected government to another,” said Khan.

The project follows a three-pronged intervention strategy comprising field research about peoples’ understanding of democracy and governance, promoting advocacy and building capacity at voluntary organisations to hold governments accountable at local and district levels.

In May, the project engaged with 85 candidates from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Jamaat-e-Islami.

The forums gave the participants a chance to interact with the leaders. As many as 90 per cent said they found them useful. The forums could not be organised in Karachi and Quetta because of security reasons.

To Khan’s surprise, the Lahore district forum received a low turnout. “It is usually believed that the residents of urban areas are more open and forthcoming towards such issues…our experience was different,” he said.

Khan said he had not expected an ‘overwhelming’ response in Jafarabad and Dadu districts.

“It was amazing to witness the degree of participation there,” he added.

The project will only take on board individuals falling in the 18 to 29 age bracket. “We have come a long way in trying to convince ourselves of the potential of the youth,” Khan said.

“It is time the youth are taken seriously and allowed to engage in the affairs of the state,” he said.

The project started in May and will go on till April 2015 in 25 districts. It will focus on eight districts in the Punjab, four in Balochistan and Sindh each, five in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and two each in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

The project will incur a cost of almost $225,000 and will target around 25,000 beneficiaries over two years.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2013.

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