The participation of young people in their societies and in the democratic practices and processes is of crucial importance to nation building. It is therefore incumbent on political and other civil society leaders to direct their attention towards ensuring that there is meaningful youth participation in the leadership of organizations. For this to be accomplished, it means that young people must be afforded the opportunity to develop their leadership potential.
Youth empowerment programmes are known to exist worldwide. They are designed to develop individuals so as to build their capacity to lead the change process in our societies. Barbados is to be lauded for having established a Youth Parliament, which provides a forum for young leaders to mimic those elected politicians in the island’s House of Assembly.
The Barbados National Youth Parliament which was officially launched in April 2014, is open to Barbadians and permanent residents ages 14 to 21. Subsequent to consultations with young people on the National Youth Policy, the National Youth Parliament was established. Fifty students drawn from secondary schools and tertiary institutions such as the Barbados Community College, the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic and the University of the West Indies, as well as young people recommended by recognized youth and community groups or constituency councils, constitute the membership.
What then is the purpose of a National Youth Parliament? Research findings suggest that it is a real opportunity to make one’s own opinions felt and to learn for oneself the benefits of operating in a democratic framework. It is said to aim at facilitating leadership skills, thinking power and increasing awareness on issues of global importance amongst young people.
The early exposure of the youth to positions of leadership, is a decisive step towards ensuring that there is a cadre of persons who are adequately prepared for the passing of the baton of leadership within organizations in our society.
It is to be expected that mass-based organizations such as trade unions, would have a definite interest in the training and exposure to be given to young leaders. Politicians, trade unionists, members of the clergy and civil society organizations, ought to be conscious of their actions and behaviours and the signals their send.
These leaders must take careful note that all young people are watching. Our national leaders should be wary of being accused of hypocrisy, and condemned for not practicing what they preach. Young people, whether as leaders or ordinary citizens, are encouraged not to compromise the principles which they stand for. They should never allow persons to intimidate, dictate or cajole them into doing or accepting anything that goes against their own conviction.
Most importantly, they should reject any attempt to stifle the expressing of their opinion, as it is important for them to develop their thinking and to express their opinion. They are also encouraged to take the advice offered by the Hon. Stephen Lashley, Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, which was given at the installation of the Barbados National Youth Parliament in June 2016. He urged current members of the Youth Parliament to “be even more vocal when examining the current issues facing society.”
The topic of discrimination against the Gay and Lesbian members of the community is one that is likely to gain the attention of Government, employers, trade unions and civil society. It is highly unlikely that it will not become a contentious issue in today’s workplace.
(Dennis De Peiza is a labour management consultant with Regional Management Services Inc. Email comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org)