By Rejinel Valencia
I come from the Philippines, a society where youth are too old to be irresponsible yet too young to assume responsibilities. In our country, people from both the government and our own citizens, are still having a hard time grasping the true essence of genuine youth participation
When I was younger, my grandmother used to remind me to stay out of conversation involving older people. She said a respectful kid is someone who just listens quietly and does not meddle with the things elders are discussing. This is despite the fact that, more often than not, she and her friends would talk about my own future, but I was not allowed to participate in the discussion. But my grandmother is not the only one with these values and flawed practices. It has actually become a habit within the Filipino culture that disguises itself as a way for adults to teach young people the value of respect. This gave me the feeling that expressing myself meant disrespecting the elders.
When I entered college, I became active in street movements advancing our interests as youth. One time, a man shouted at me during a rally, saying that instead of doing what I was doing, I should focus on my studies first. He said my priority should be my school requirements, as I can do all the rallying after finishing my degree. This gave me the feeling that my public and social participation meant my failure to accomplish my only responsibility, which is to study hard.
More recently, the leadership of the Filipino Congress announced the scrapping of the Youth Council, simply because they deemed it useless. This was considered the main platform for young people to meaningfully participate in the Filipino government and the decisions made on their behalf. The law governing the youth councils in the Philippines has recently been amended, but has not been put into practice yet. Nonetheless, their stand against the youth council gave me the feeling that my political participation is useless, so why participate in the first place?
If I were to summarize my experiences, then what I am told is that my participation as a youth is a disrespect for the elders, a hindrance to the achievement of my responsibility as a student, and a useless attempt to take part in the workings of the government. And for some time, I really thought they represented the real notion of youth participation.
This feeling took a turn in December last year, when I won the UN’s Case4Space Call for Stories. During the Case4Space event, I met some of the most brilliant and active defenders of youth civic space in the Asia-Pacific region. I am now proud to say I have friendships all over this region but more importantly, I became more knowledgeable on the real essence of youth participation.
That 1: Youth participation means respect for everyone’s right to participate. We deserve to be heard because our opinions are central in policymaking. The adults would usually craft policies and programmes but often from an adult perspective.
That 2: Youth participation means our victory to accomplish our responsibilities. Because it is also our responsibility to defend our interests and rights, and that this responsibility is not limited within the bounds of the classroom.
That 3: Youth participation is never useless, but a fruitful attempt to protect our posterity. An Indian saying goes, "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." You just borrowed this world from us, and now it is time for us to reclaim it from you. Give us the opportunity to lead us towards prosperity within this region.