Raising young voices

 Young participants asked questions to the mayoral candidates of Dhaka North City Corporation and Chittagong City Corporation on April 15th and 20th, 2015.

Samiha is a student at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong. In the eyes of this young woman, gender-based harassment, so called “eve-teasing”, has become a growing concern for not only students, but women of all ages and all backgrounds in Bangladesh. Women find it difficult to go about their daily lives for fear of the comments and touching they elicit when they try to attend class or do their shopping.

This issue was raised at the UNDP-hosted dialogue between young people and mayoral hopefuls In Chittagong, Samiha was encouraged to hear candidates take the issue seriously. Leaving the dialogue Samiha said the event was “promising” as it candidates had demonstrated the “potential of the city” and the mayor to take concrete steps to address issues like eve-teasing and waste management.

Stats are often thrown about. 47.6 million Bangladeshis are between 10 and 24 years old (UNFPA 2014). 

It’s easy to give these statistics a cursory glance since in the end they’re just numbers. They don’t represent individuals. They don’t tell stories.  

It’s harder, however, to ignore the 47.6 million when they start to ask you direct questions.

At recent dialogues in Dhaka and Chittagong, young people, drawn from these 47.6 million, got the chance to ask direct questions to mayoral candidates.

Things got lively in Dhaka where young people asserted the value of their voice and their entitlement to question candidates. In Chittagong many hands shot up for the opportunity to grab hold of a microphone.

So what did young people have to ask?

Young people showed themselves to be engaged and thoughtful citizens, who cared about their future of their city and the quality of life all citizens. Questions related to many concerns shared with the general public. Young people asked about candidates’ plans to address corruption, reduce pollution, ease traffic congestion and improve public transport, but also specific concerns about the (social) inclusion of people with disabilities, members of sexual minorities, slum-dwellers and young people.

To close both dialogues, candidates were invited to share their commitments which included common pledges to stamp out corruption, clean up the cities and consult and involve youth.

The UNDP is proud to have initiated these first dialogues between youth and decision makers, but recognizes the importance of continuing the conversation past polling day. As one participant at the Dhaka-North dialogue said, “Today we can see all of you (candidates), and all of you are here to answer questions, but are we still going be able to meet you once you’re elected?” In the next months, the UNDP will promote further platforms through which young people are able to engage with decision makers and advocate for youth-inclusive policies.

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