Kungsör municipality in Västmanland, Sweden and Rufunsa in Zambia have a common challenge: how to increase young people’s influence and involvement in politics. Although the pandemic has prevented them from physically meeting, they have already given each other energy in working towards the common goal.
Kungsör’s project coordinator Josephine Härdin recounts how their new partners Rufunsa in Zambia presented, in an online workshop, their municipality’s efforts to involve young people in decision-making.
– It was a short presentation, maybe ten minutes, but it generated energy in the hall. It made everyone understand that this is an issue that is dealt with all over the world and that we can get an important boost from other countries in our work.
Josephine Härdin immediately became curious when ICLD contacted her a couple of years ago and described the advantages of entering a municipal partnership. At that time, Kungsör, like all other municipalities, was preparing for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to become Swedish law by 2020. It had become highly relevant to draw attention to the work of bringing a child perspective into all the municipality’s activities.
– We had already started discussing how we could get better. Then I thought it sounded like an exciting idea also to involve an international partner in that work.
The rest of the municipal management agreed with her, all ideas from other countries seemed inspiring. Previously the municipality had a youth council, but it ceased to exist when those who promoted the idea initially disappeared. Today, there is a student council from the municipality’s various schools that is given the opportunity to submit comments on policies, but it does not work optimally. Furthermore, the citizens of Kungsör are offered the opportunity to submit citizen proposals, but they rarely come from young people.
In addition, the average age in the council is relatively high, so the parties need to reach out to young people who want to get involved politically.
– But what we need above all is more systematic work to improve the dialogue with the young generation. There is no real structure today, says Josephine.
It is too early to say to talk about the outcomes from their partnership since they only have had a few digital meetings during the preparatory work.
– Rufunsa is more used to arranging physical meetings with young people, going out and meeting them where they live. Here I think we will have things to learn, says Josephine.
Kungsör is a small municipality with just under 9,000 inhabitants, Rufunsa is a vast province with 45,000 inhabitants. Despite the differences, they have identified similar problems with young people and democracy.
– While Rufunsa worries about that young women and girls have too little influence over decisions, it is rather the boys we think of. For us it is easier to get girls involved, at least on some issues, says Josephine.
The start of their cooperation has not only been hampered by the pandemic, it also became difficult to conduct digital meetings when both officials and politicians in Rufunsa were replaced before and after the elections in Zambia in August. Now a few more women have entered politics, including a district in Rufunsa led by a 21-year-old law student.
The two partners have also begun to discuss the importance of comparing each others’ written plans and governing documents on active civic influence, discussing what can be sharpened and what can be done differently to realize the plans.
– We will discuss how to include the young people’s perspective in all decision-making, not only in the decisions taken by the council and the municipal board, but also in small everyday decisions that affect the everyday life of young people.
The partners have met digitally in ICLD’s network for human rights, which also includes other partner municipalities. We asked Josepine what this network has provided so far?
– A lot! We have received advice from other Swedish municipalities that have had partnerships longer. And we learn from each other to make all the practical arrangements and to get the most out of the partnership.
About the long-term results of their collaboration, Josephine is optimistic:
– I think it can give us both a great deal! There is a point in comparing oneself with someone from a completely different culture and with other basic conditions. It becomes a kind of complement to the comparisons we make with municipalities that are more like us.