The Commonwealth Secretariat is supporting a Jamaican initiative to get young people in the Caribbean more involved in politics.
A webinar entitled 'Politics in Action: Youth Participation' was the first in a series organised by the Jamaica Office of the Political Ombudsman and the Secretariat through the Inclusive Dialogue and Women Political Participation Project.
It was attended by young people from across the Commonwealth, including youth leaders, youth-focused organisations, academics and political and electoral stakeholders in Jamaica and Grenada.
The webinar aimed to raise awareness of the role young people can play in the political processes of their countries, and stimulate a discussion around inclusive and peaceful political participation in the Caribbean.
Hon. Donna Parchment-Brown, the Political Ombudsman of Jamaica, called for the continued involvement of young people in high-level politics. She said young people are the perfect stakeholders and partners to uphold standards and help hold politicians to account.
University of West Indies lecturer Dr Herbert Gayle said young people are key to maintaining democracy in the Caribbean and that the political establishment must be re-structured to allow them to effectively participate.
He said: “To achieve maximum youth participation in politics is to encourage their participation in programmes and activities that help them understand how governance is achieved, and also helps them understand grassroots participation and democracy itself."
The Commonwealth Youth Council mobilises young people to engage in politics, and bring change to the political, electoral and governance processes of their countries.
Dr Tres-Ann Kremer is the Head of the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Good Offices for Peace, and Adviser for the Caribbean.
She said: “Although political participation is hard to define, it is important to acknowledge the broad range of participation, and how that contributes to increasing and enhancing political participation and consolidating democracy.
"Participation could be by voting and standing for election, youth and civil society as well as other innovative ways such as partnership that gives young people access to decision making."
In-country consultations in Jamaica by the Commonwealth Secretariat in 2019 have shown young people are seeking to play more active roles in political and democratic processes, and want to be more visible in key political decision-making areas.
The consultations have revealed that although political institutions have made efforts to increase accessibility to young people, there are gaps in the representation of young people in elective offices.
Devin McIntosh is from Cornwall College High School and is a member of the youth-focused Political Awareness and Respect Initiative (PARI) from the Office of the Political Ombudsman.
He said: "The major impediments to the participation of young people in the Caribbean includes lack of upgrades to the method of voting, lack of representation and a general disconnect between activism and action."
He said for these things to change, the government must undertake legislative modification to increase engagement and accountability and create non-partisan organisations to stimulate safe dialogue.
The next set of webinars will focus on women’s political participation and will resume on 11 September 2020.
The next General Election in Jamaica is scheduled for 3 September this year.