Fisherfolk from a riverine community in Bangladesh. Photo: Oxfam/ Nuzhat Nueary

Youth Engagement for Global Action: Theme - Inclusive Water Governance

“Youth voices are crucial” is a popular statement that we hear in different spaces. As existing as it is, it is also puzzling that we do not yet have enough in seeking out their perspectives. It is even more so in the arena of water governance that has many complexities. National and international discourses have recognized youth as crucial agents of transformation. However, in water governance, young people are limited to being labeled as a target group or an agenda item, but their engagement has been relegated to empty lipservice.

To correct this, we went forward to discuss the unique strengths that youths could bring into this sector and laid out our visions and strategies for more robust, inclusive, and effective youth engagement. It would be a welcome change to see our proposals considered seriously and then enacted.

Water governance is a bone of contention, and as such, a hierarchical space, viewed mostly from scientific and diplomatic lenses. Moving away from this narrow view, we look forward to widening the horizon to include social, communal, aesthetic, historical, cultural perspectives, which are crucial in laying the foundations for the inclusion of young people.  Here are a few such ideas:

Creating networks within the water community

The power of networks must be harnessed, and we believe that it is crucial in creating spaces for young people in water governance. Young people - with expertise in water laws and rights, environmental sciences, riverine ecosystems, water-related disasters, climate crisis, social science, and transboundary river issues - should be brought together. This will enable a thriving environment of knowledge creation, idea sharing, capacity building, and implementing solutions.

This pool of young people in the global or regional sphere should connect with spaces of influence that enable dialogues with policymakers and experts. We look forward to this because, despite the glaring fact that young people can lead unique and sustainable solutions, the implications in policy are rare to trace.

Creating opportunities for one-on-one mentoring for young people by water professionals/policymakers will give us a closer look into the challenges and contexts. This would help us chip away at the barriers that have emerged, further allowing intergenerational learning and effective communication. These networks can hone the capacities of youth and equip them with the skills and knowledge that are believed to be lacking in young people to take up necessary action in water governance. Creating a crowdsourced database of opportunities and young people and networks will help amplify youth voices and approaches to inclusive water governance.

Reaching out to communities

Local communities are the primary partners at the heart of water governance. Capturing the nuances of their real-life experiences can rightfully guide an empathetic approach to viewing and finding solutions to water issues.

We believe that young people understand these unique challenges and have a sensitive approach to guiding solutions. As such, young people can effectively reach into the communities to help uncover the outliers that are usually ignored in the larger water governance processes.

The youth networks can lead local chapters in their communities, forming alliances with community members and leaders and facilitate knowledge generation from within the communities. Youths can play a powerful role in elevating these insider voices, using newer advocacy tools like podcasts, documentaries, photo journaling, and other audio-visual storytelling and artistic mechanisms, while continually engaging community members.

This would ensure that solutions are driven by trust and ownership, making it more credible and transformative. This component would prove invaluable for the policymakers for a holistic governance approach. Moreover, these mediums can also prove to be effective in highlighting successful youth engagements, which could provide lessons for the future.  

Enabling a conducive environment

An environment that supports and welcomes youth engagement is critical - through the provision of research grants and joint regional research programs for evidence-based, multi-perspective, and inclusive learning and outcomes. Such programs must promote inclusion and transparency regarding programs and decision-making processes and encourage of youth-led ideas and solutions. It is when the recommendations provided by young people with the knowledge, skills, and capacities are reflected in policy that a shared enthusiasm to support youth-led solutions becomes visible.

We want to see young people occupying spaces and being acknowledged for the ideas, experiences, and knowledge they bring. We believe in youth being aware of and respecting the voices and experiences of communities and hence being agents of dialogue and mediating the geographical, social, cultural differences to provide solutions to pressing issues of communities. We believe in them creating shared spaces where suppressed voices can be catalyzed for empowerment and informed decision making.

To translate these visions to action, the governance space must enable and create thriving spaces for youth-owned or youth-led initiatives. We believe that the suggestions described above could make “youth voices” that empower a generation of contemporary water leaders, building trust and motivating them to become agents of change at different levels, starting at their communities. We believe these local actions have the power to drive global action.

Disclaimer: The views and ideas expressed are solely those of the author/s.