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Youth in Governance

Guidance Note

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The present guidance note is meant as inspiration for youth issues to be considered in connection with governance pro-grammes.

With over 1.8 billion youth, young people are key agents in building democratic cultures and societies. During youth-hood, young people establish their identity as individuals while beginning to interact independently with the broader community. As community members they receive rights (e.g. to vote, to a fair trial, etc.) as well as obligations (e.g. paying taxes), but their ability to claim such rights and fulfil their obligations depends on their knowledge and skills related to active citizenship and the opportunities they are given to practice their civic engagement. Active citizenship is consequently identified as one of the most important activities for a sound transition to adulthood.3

Youth civic engagement has different expressions and is practiced in different ways from formal political participation in political parties, elections etc. to the involvement in youth led organisations and social movements putting pressure on governments to change policies and to provide better and more youth friendly public services. Through civic engagement young people develop the problem-solving skills they will need in adulthood, they build self-esteem and leadership skills, and increase their influence and personal stake in community.

Young people’s active citizenship is a.o. nurtured by:

• Civic empowerment which develops young people’s agency and enables them to make informed decisions, demand a say and take effective part in societal matters.
• The existence of an enabling environment formed by inclusive national policies, supportive legislation and structures which ensure that young people are provided adequate and genuine opportunities to be included in political process and decision-making, and which make them feel safe and secure when exercising active citi-zenship

The enabling environment

An enabling environment is synonymous with the concept of “good governance” and includes policies and legislative and financial frameworks that promote democracy, political participation and responsiveness to people’s needs, rule of law, respect for and protection of all human rights, a functioning system of public finance and corruption-free conditions.

Creating an enabling environment for young people’s active citizenship requires the involvement of different initiatives and different actors at different levels who play their respective roles in facilitating young people’s opportunities and actual participation. An enabling environment consists of policies promoting young people’s participation at national, provincial regional and local levels; mechanisms for making participation accessible and appealing to youth, for example through financial support to initiatives on active youth citizenship or campaigns challenging age discrimination and inspiring young people run for political offices5; and legislation safeguarding their rights when they engage in societal matters.


Danish support to youth civic engagement is supported by governance programmes focusing on for example empowering young people to take part in the democratic processes (e.g. voter’s education), but mainly by granting funds for youth specific actions via different civil society organisations and decentralised umbrella funding mechanisms, e.g. the Democratic Governance Facility in Uganda, Foundation for Civil Society, in Tanzania and FAMOC in Mali which supports a number of youth organisations.

Due to the often informal nature of active citizenship, Danish support to young people’s civic engagement is mainly channelled through Development Engagements, (DEs) with umbrella organisations or via civil society support mecha-nisms (cf. the CSO funding mechanisms in Uganda, Tanzania, Mali) or Danish NGO programmes.6 These programmes are flexible and can work directly with young activists engaged in youth-led community-based organizations and informal youth movements, and they are suited for creating sustainable structures for young people’s continued civic engagement.

Example - Mobilising youth for advocacy

With the support of Caritas Denmark (and Danida), the Community Integrated Development Initiatives (CIDI) has mapped all youth networks and groups in Uganda and engaged a number of these in the newly formed National Youth Advocacy Platform.

The Youth Advocacy Platform has conducted a situational analysis and identified six issues for advocacy on upstream policy and governance issues as well as downstream societal/grassroot issues. These are: Ineffective youth participation in leadership, planning and budgeting processes; poor business framework conditions for young entrepreneurs; inadequate promotion of agriculture in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, and increased teenage pregnancies leading to high school drop-out.

The Youth Advocacy Platform has developed a strategy for bringing forward the advocacy issues and identified key decision-makers, key influencers and partners.

Youth and governance in Africa

The normative framework for youth governance in Africa includes among others the African Youth Charter (2006); the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) (2007), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981); the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990). These frameworks spell out rights, freedoms, and duties that accrue to young people and provide guidance on how to effectively and meaningfully promote their potential at all levels.

Several African countries have adopted national youth policies and established national structures like national youth councils and ministries and agencies dedicated to youth issues. Also, several countries and political parties have established special youth quotas to deliberately guarantee youth participation in political processes, for instance in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Despite these success stories, several critics of the youth participation discourse continue to note that these initiatives have not adequately deepened nor enhanced young people’s participation in political and governance processes. For instance, young people are under-represented in formal public offices and political spaces, often leading to side-lining of their concerns and realities. Invariably, they are more involved in ad-hoc engagements or mobilisation, which are often the informal avenues for them to express their displeasure about politics and governance. These include through demonstrations and strikes, initiating or signing a petition, joining pressure groups, volunteering time and donating to a cause or charity, boycotting a product, spreading and voting in social media surveys etc.

African Governance Architecture: Enhancing young people’s meaningful participation in electoral processes in Africa. (2017).

Inspiration for a Theory of Change (ToC) on Governance
The following figure illustrates some of the key features and causalities important for youth, which should be considered when developing a ToC and a results chain for a governance sector engagement. As such, the ToC is intended to provide inspiration and supplement to the development of the sector specific ToC and is not a stand-alone tool, nor is it a by youth tool. It is for inspiration in the Youth Situational Analysis and under-standing of the background against which youth mainstreaming and youth engagement should be formulated, planned and implemented. See also Aid Management Guidelines: Guidelines for Programmes and Projects, January 2018, p. 19.

Governance figur

Youth Assessment Tool: Governance
An important first step in mainstreaming youth within a thematic governance programme/development engagement is to assess the level of civic engagement among the targeted youth population and the extent to which the environment enables and/or hinders their active democratic and civic participation.

The matrix below describes some of the common and overall hindering and enabling factors at different levels that may impact young people’s democratic and civic engagement. The matrix is followed by a format which will help to make a contextual assessment of issues of relevance for youth in governance programmes.



Hindering factors

Enabling factors



Young people are marginalized from democratic and civic participation by virtue of:


Young people are included in democratic and civic participation as a result of:



Attitudes towards them, labelling and stereotyping as being irresponsible, inexperienced, lazy, rebellious, etc.


Acknowledgement of young people as a resource in decision-making and development



Cultural, religious and family norms undermining particularly young women’s public engagements


Interpersonal support from peers, family, colleagues and other stakeholders



Lack of laws, policies and practices supporting youth participation (leading to under-representation in formal structures such as local government and parliament).


Youth policies, youth quotas, active citizenship education, etc.



Lack of knowledge, skills and motivation


Knowledge, skills and motivation, including:

1) Self-awareness and awareness of one’s view of the world, 2) Awareness of power dynamics, 3) ability gather information, analyse a situation, solve problems, and make or influence decisions, etc.

The following example of guiding questions for a contextual assessment of the realities of young people in relation to governance sector programmes offers a supplement to the general thematic and contextual analysis and appraisals cf. Annex 1: Context Analysis in the Guidelines for Programmes and Projects, AMG, January 2018.


Key conclusions

To what extent are young women and men knowledgeable of:

  • their right to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives and societies?


  • local/national decision-making structures and processes?


Do young women and men have adequate skills to make informed decisions/ assume leadership, etc.?


What are young people’s main sources of civic information (social media, TV, meetings, radio, newspapers) and to what extent are these sources trustworthy?


To what extent are youth exercising active citizenship:

  • do they vote?


  • do they involve actively in party politics, NGOs, community-based organizations, civic movements, etc.?


  • do they engage actively community development activities?


To what extent are the youth engaged in local/national governance processes?

  • Is their engagement ad hoc or formalized in mandated mechanisms?


  • Is there any difference in regard to young women’s and young men’s engagement?




Is there a youth policy (or any other policy) with a framework for institutionalized youth participation in decision-making?


Does adult’s perception of youth influence young people’s civic engagement?

  • Are there certain groups of youth who due to gender, social or educational conditions, disability etc. are less likely to be included in decision-making?


Which institutionalized local/national platforms or mechanisms (youth councils, youth advisory boards etc.) exist for young people to participate in decision-making processes?

  • Are there specific youth quotas/seats in local/national governance bodies?


To what extent do youth believe:

  • That local/national decision-making structures are inclusive and responsive?


  • That they freely and confidently can express their voice and hold government and duty bearers accountable?


What are the main formal/informal barriers excluding young people (or parts of the youth population) from meaningful democratic and civic engagement?


Further reading and inspiration on Governance


UNDP: Youth, Political Participation and Decision-making: A fact sheet containing examples of youth empowerment and demo- cratic governance and providing a way forward for support to young people’s participation in inclusive political processes and democratic practices, through three measures, covering the wider enabling environment, individual capacity building and a specific focus on young women.


UNDP: Enhancing Youth Political Participation throughout the Electoral Cycle: A Good Practice Guide (2013): marks UNDP´s first review of programming strategies for youth political participation beyond the ballot box. The Good Practice Guide identifies key entry points for the inclusion of young people in political and electoral processes and compiles good practice examples of mechanisms for youth political empowerment around the globe, focusing on innovative instruments with the potential to provide fresh inputs for UNDP programmes as well as initiatives by other stakeholders.


UN-DSEA: Youth Civic Engagement (2016): The World Youth Report explores young people’s participation in economic, political and community life, responding to growing interest in, and an increased policy focus on, youth civic engagement in recent years among Governments, young people and researchers. The Report provides thematic insights on economic, political and community engagement, coupled with expert opinion pieces so as to provide robust and varied perspectives into youth engagement.


US Department of Health and Human Services: A homepage presenting a game plan for engaging youth in promoting health and healthy development; including Principles for Youth Engagement and Eight Successful Youth Engagement Approaches


GTZ: Youth Policies and Action Plans (2008): A toolkit for designing national youth policies and action plans which adapt relevant international conventions and charters to local needs for the purpose of promoting enabling environments for youth participation at national and community level.


Save the Children: A youth participation best practice toolkit (2016): Part one: What to consider when designing youth participation programmes aimed at the social and civic empowerment of vulnerable youth. Part two: Tools, methods, tips, exercises and suggested training workshops for youth participation programmes and projects aimed at the social and civic empowerment of vulnerable youth.


Save the Children: A Toolkit for Monitoring and Evaluating Children’s participation (2014): Six booklets providing a conceptual framework for measuring children participation, together with guidance on how to undertake monitoring and evaluation and practical tools that can help you gather the information you need. Although the focus is on children’s participation, the toolkit is also very relevant for youth participation.

1 Danida, The World 2030 section 2.4, p. 7

2 Ibid., pp. 33-35.

3 World Bank, World Development Report 2007: Development and the Next Generation. (Washington, D.C., 2006).

4 Danida, The World 2030, p.13.

5 See for example the global campaign Not too Young to Run initiated by the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth in partnership with UN and civil society organizations (2016).

6 Youth leading the World 2030: A review of Danida’s youth related engagements, Restless Development, Danida, January 2017, pp. 62-67 and The World 2030 p. 7 where it is stated that In cooperation with organisations that work with young people, we will ensure that young people are increasingly involved in the future society”.


Ministry of Foreign Affairs


2 Asiatisk Plads

DK-1448 Copenhagen K


Tel. +45 33 92 00 00


In case of questions, please contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Global Youth Advisor, Thomas Rudebeck Eilertzen (