Webinar: Exercising Your Voice Is Just a Click Away!

 


Youth civic engagement is increasingly shifting online during the COVID-19 pandemic. To better understand the importance of young people’s participation in elections in Europe during crisis and how young people can address challenges around digital activism, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), in partnership with young leaders and experts, held a webinar on July 30, 2020, honoring International Youth Day on August 12. This was the third webinar held under IFES’ Administering Elections in Europe During a Pandemic webinar series. It featured simultaneous interpretation into Armenian, English, Georgian, Macedonian, Russian and South Slavic languages and drew 72 participants from 22 countries.

IFES brought together speakers from Armenia, Canada, Georgia, North Macedonia and Ukraine to discuss digital youth civic engagement under the title “Exercising Your Voice Is Just a Click Away! Promoting Digital Youth Civic Engagement.” The webinar opened with IFES Youth Specialist Ashley Law, who addressed the shift to online engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the challenges young people experience with school closures, mental health issues connected with social distancing and stay-at-home policies, and the overwhelming amount of COVID-19 disinformation.

“Young people’s contributions are key to sustainable democracy and it is important that young people are involved in shaping laws and policies that affect them.” – Ashley Law, IFES Youth Specialist

Following, Ketevan Chikviladze, executive director of Hillel Tbilisi in Georgia, showcased various activities her organization conducted during the pandemic to engage young people, such as games, quizzes, online group discussions and an educational program to learn Yiddish. These activities were designed to keep young people engaged while complying with stay-at-home policies, improve communication and promote coexistence in multiethnic communities. 

Iryna Techukova, project coordinator for Fight for Right in Ukraine, discussed inclusion of young people with disabilities during the pandemic. Techukova addressed the challenges that youth with disabilities face on the national level and the lack of strategic policy related to the political empowerment of youth in general, but also young girls and women with disabilities.¹ To overcome these challenges, Fight for Right established a school program to support young girls and women with disabilities and empower them to get involved in politics. Due to the pandemic, the school program was halted, as offline communication is crucial to creating a secure space for persons with disabilities.    

Anna Yeghoyan, co-founder and board member of the Gyumri Youth Initiative Center in Armenia, explained young people’s shift from disinterest in political participation to active engagement during the Velvet Revolution in 2018. Yeghoyan discussed the insufficient support for young people’s ability to safely participate in and shape political processes. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack and stability of internet connection and young people’s preference for in-person engagement exacerbate these challenges.

Aleksandar Mitanoski, a youth community mobilizer from North Macedonia, spoke about young people’s online engagement to build more inclusive and democratic election processes. Mitanoski explained the work of his cohort of community mobilizers, including capacity-building workshops, monitoring health, education, human rights and employment during the pandemic, producing short videos to engage youth and implementing innovative community-based initiatives.

The webinar was concluded by Caro Loutfi, executive director of Apathy Is Boring, a youth-led organization in Canada that focuses on disengaged youth who do not participate in electoral processes or see themselves reflected in government policies. Loutfi emphasized that even among disengaged youth, there is a demographic that is mobilized by social trends or peer pressure, while another demographic requires deeper and more focused work in civic education and confidence-building.

While each speaker highlighted successes, there were consistent trends in obstacles that prevent comprehensive civic engagement by youth online. These barriers include lack of internet access and inaccessible platforms for young people with disabilities. Speakers also underscored the challenges of navigating online disinformation, particularly during the COVID-19 “infodemic,” and the importance of effective media literacy.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the IFES webinar series, as the focus and date will be announced shortly.


¹ Based on survey results in 14 different locations in Ukraine. Data shows that only 13 percent of young girls ages 14 to 16 and women with disabilities are ready to be engaged in political processes, whereas about 75 persons of young boys and men with disabilities are ready to participate.

Published on August 25, 2020.