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Making Youth Voices Count

“How can we create change?” This was the question on the minds of young political party members who gathered together in Yangon August 7–8 to learn, network and celebrate the contributions of youth leaders ahead of International Youth Day. IRI Burma brought together 85 young people from 24 political parties, representing every state and region across the country, for a unique opportunity to connect with established youth leaders in government and civil society from Burma and abroad.

International Youth Day Conference participants prepare for their debates

Running for political office or campaigning for a candidate is one way that young people can ensure that their concerns are represented in government. Parit Wacharasindhu, a former candidate for parliament in Thailand, shared his experience as one of the youngest candidates for parliament, at the age of 26. Wacharasindhu discussed how he developed a campaign strategy built on his strengths as a young candidate, by targeting specific sections of the population, and gained visibility for his campaign through television and social media. He also emphasized how young people can create change in other ways, including through influencing attitudes, serving as role models and building skills and knowledge.

Aina Mari Sisante, a municipal councilor from Cavite Province, Philippines, discussed how local government provided her the opportunity to enact ordinances and resolutions to make the municipality function more smoothly and to better address the needs of her constituents. Although opportunities in local government have been limited in Burma until recently, working in local government provides a great opportunity for young people to serve their community while also gaining political experience that will make them more competitive for national political office in the future.

During the event, political party youth from Burma shared their policy priorities, which included job opportunities, education, combating illegal drug use, and reducing discrimination against young people in the workplace and in politics. Participants also considered how to conduct campaigns to raise awareness about the need to address these policy priorities. They participated in mock debates to build their oratory skills and practiced incorporating evidence-based arguments to strengthen their ability to advocate for issues that are important to them. Participants also learned effective techniques for conducting community outreach.

Conferences such as this one are important because young people in Burma still face significant challenges getting their voices heard on the issues that affect their daily lives. In Burma, IRI supports young people in political parties through its Toward a Culture of Inclusion project, which assists political parties in developing more inclusive outreach and messaging, and other programming that includes young people as major beneficiaries. As we celebrate International Youth Day, IRI looks forward to building on its work supporting young people in Burma and through its Generation Democracy program and country initiatives to address pressing challenges.