Photo Gallery: Democracy Camp Strengthens Participation of Youth Leaders in Sri Lanka
“I have never voted before, mostly because I wasn't interested. Today, at the last day of the workshop, I decided to participate in every future election, whether they be local or national. I know that is it both my right and responsibility to vote and participate in decision making.”
- Kapila Ramanayaka, civil society member
As the next generation of political leaders, Sri Lanka’s youth have a critical role to play in bolstering an inclusive democratic process that is responsive to all of its citizens. To further strengthen the democratic participation of youth leaders in Sri Lanka, on August 11, the Election Commission of Sri Lanka (EC) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) launched a three-day "Democracy Fellowship Youth Camp." The Youth Camp is part of IFES’ United States Agency for International Development funded Improved Election Management Program and coincided with International Youth Day on August 12.
Drawing on IFES’ youth-focused curriculum developed for past democracy youth camps in Sri Lanka and around the world, the Youth Camp engaged nearly 70 participants from Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities on citizenship and democratic responsibilities, good governance and civic engagement, and legal reform efforts in Sri Lanka. The event opened with an address by the chairman of the EC who highlighted youth leaders essential role in promoting a democratic process that works for all Sri Lanka’s citizens, noting that “If we don't treat marginalized groups properly we cannot call ourselves a democratic country." Key sessions included: voter registration; gender equality in elections; election observation 101; principles of civic engagement; and Sri Lanka’s legal framework. Additionally, participants engaged in mock counting and polling accessibility simulations that introduced first time voters to Election Day procedures, as well as best practices to promote the political rights of people with disabilities. As one young banker noted, the interactive session “literally helped me to put myself in the shoes of people with disabilities and look at the world through their eyes.” In the final session, participants developed their own action plans that enable emerging youth leaders to apply newly-acquired knowledge and skills to specific community-based activities.
Participants highlighted diverse skills and knowledge gains from the Youth Camp which, taken together, will further strengthen the democratic process. One woman noted that the sessions on gender equality introduced her to women’s rights provisions in Sri Lanka’s laws, and inspired her to do more community-based advocacy work: “I am hoping to work with political parties to send more women into politics… I feel that if I join the political party of my belief I can do more work from inside to make democracy more inclusive.” Another participant highlighted how the Youth Camp “helped build my civil society network, and inspired me to use new social media tools such as Instagram.” As Sri Lanka prepares for future elections, the emerging network of politically-engaged youth leaders provides a diverse foundation of support to promote inclusive democratic processes.
View photo gallery from the Youth Camp.