Developing youth parliaments to teach youth about the democratic process

The Culture and Free Thought Association has established youth centers, run by youth parliaments, to teach adolescents about the democratic process and provide them with positive life experiences. The youth centers are now governed by the elected members of the youth parliaments. This program for youth sprung out of a need to illustrate the democratic process for young people who had never witnessed it. Many youth in Palestine had witnessed or been subjected to violence. The youth centers and parliaments are meant to help combat the feeling of helplessness which may come with being in a society experiencing such turmoil.

The organization established five centers that targeted young people between the ages of 13 and 17. After implementing the youth centers, the program began facilitating the 'Democracy Game.' Within the framework of rules about campaigning, election and terms of office, young people ran and elected candidates to serve on youth parliaments at each center. There was a 100% turn out of members for the election. Monitors were invited to illustrate the importance of transparency in elections. The monitors were invited from Members of the Palestinian Authority, the Ministry of the Interior, other NGOs, and their families. The entire process provides young people with the experience of participating in a democracy.

Initially, boys and girls ran and campaigned in two separate chambers. The two have since combined and run the youth centers together. This provides a unique model for gender equality.
The youth elected eleven members—6 girls and 5 boys—to the Legislative Council. After the elections the youth met together and among themselves elected those who would take the positions of chair person, vice president, administrator, public relations and monitoring (for accountability and judgment). Each elected member was asked to bring his or her agenda that proposed during their campaign and they proceeded to set up their action plan. This action plan resulted in committees that were set up based on the programs that had been presented during the campaign, including cultural, information and media, and scientific committees.

Through the formation of the various committees of interest and needs the youth decided that the Parliament would be responsible for running the center. After a year, the Parliament held its first conference and discussed the achievements and failures as well as evaluated the experience. A number of those who were holding positions claimed that they should remain in the positions like the officers of the Palestinian Authority. The other youth argued that this was undemocratic and they decided to hold new elections.

Since the first 'Democracy Game,' more than 2,000 youth have participated in the parliament process. There are now 16 youth parliaments running south of the Gaza Strip.

The biggest challenge in implementing this tactic was the process of overcoming suspicion from religious leaders and the families of potential participants. However, once the program had been established, the families and teachers of participants noted a positive change in the youth which enhanced the program's images.


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