A few years ago I was on the streets alongside fellow students protesting against spending cuts to education and rising tuition fees in the U.K. Although the government’s decisions did not apply to me directly (at the time I was finishing my studies), I empathized with the many students who faced increasing challenges in attaining higher education. We were protesting against a move which would limit the future choices for youth, and we did not think it was good policy to penalize the future due to the pains of the present.
Now I look at the events of the past three years as a social scientist. Globally, the youth cohort is the largest in history and it has increasing demands for opportunities, voice and justice – a global cry for social inclusion. The newly launched World Bank report Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity notes – “The Arab Spring may have been one of the most costly reactions to exclusion of educated youth.” But as one of those born into what media has called a ‘lost generation,’ I rather see us as a driving force for change in the current socio-economic and political environment. We can argue about the extent of our impact, but we are clearly a spark for discourse and action.
Underpinning almost every protest and social change movement – and even causing them – are young people, mostly students, or unemployed graduates, many of whom are now sadly being called “lost”. Young people are often more emotional, idealistic, passionate and less cautious about the consequences of their actions, and very often the ones who fight for the causes they believe in (remember the 14-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai?). We are high-tech savvy and exploit social media to connect, organize groups, gatherings, events and use it to expose malfeasances. We want to be heard and be listened to, and at the forefront of global protests. We demand better alternatives for the sake of all people.
As Paul Mason recently underlined, “at the heart of it all are young people, obviously; students; westernised; secularised” who can no longer tolerate exclusion no matter what has caused it. In countries struggling with regime change, we rage against long-term exclusion by the state, or the inability to have opportunities to determine our own life chances. Anti-austerity and “Occupy” protests, built on a sense of injustice of inequality, embody feelings of powerlessness and exclusion from participating fully in democratic processes. Exclusion is felt by youth in Turkey where despite a solid economic climate youth feel that they can no longer preserve control over their lifestyle choices and take part in national decision-making. In Chile, students started by protesting education policies and finished by demanding changes and reforms in other economic sectors.
In the case of France, Sweden or the U.K., protests are largely driven by disenchanted immigrant youth groups whose social stance is comparatively worse than their peers. They protest for better and more equal employment opportunities, decent housing and not to feel discriminated against. In Brazil, it is also mostly the young and newly emerged middle-class protesters who are tired of political corruption and have increasing aspirations for more and better public services and infrastructure. They also do not want to be left out once the “rising tide lifts all boats” – but not theirs.
A common denominator underlying all these youth movements is the shared feeling of exclusion. We, young people, are at the front lines demanding change. We call for inclusion of everyone, including the youth, in consultations and decision-making processes. We want to ‘level the field’ of opportunities regardless one’s identity, and be further included in society, one which treats all members with equal respect and dignity.
On October 9, 2013 the World Bank Group’s Social Development Department launched a report, Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity, which marks a central tenet in the Bank Group’s dual goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and promoting shared prosperity. I invite all young people to continue the conversation about youth and inclusion online using Twitter - #inclusionmatters and to join a month-long online conversation starting on October 31. Tell us what inclusion means to you, and to young people.