Youth democratic participation promoted in Lund and Francistown

Strengthening and promoting young people’s participation in the decision-making processes is one of the objectives of the Programme for social sustainability of Lund municipality in Sweden. The same objective applies to the municipal partnership between Lund and Francistown (Botswana). Through the project, the partners want to create fora where young people and politicians can meet and discuss various issues of concern. In this way, they want to contribute to social sustainability in their respective municipal organisations as well as at the citizen level.

Both municipalities are members of the ICLD Human Rights Network. Earlier this fall, ICLD conducted a network meeting in Lund, during which all partnerships in the network participated. During the week, we had the opportunity to meet young people as well as local politicians in Lund to talk about the importance of including young people in decision-making, Swedish development cooperation and much more. In this article we would like to present these conversations.

“It came as a complete revelation to me: I do quite a lot!”

Elina Kalpakidis, 18, and Leontine Fransson, 18, were among the 17 students who attended a meeting with network representatives from Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Sweden. The students are studying International Relations at Spyken Upper Secondary School in Lund. They believe that there are ways to get involved politically in Lund and that this has become particularly clear to them now that they have had the opportunity to talk to the international guests:

– They were interested in climate change and how we, young people, can do something about it. We talked about second hand, about cycling everywhere in Lund, but also about waste sorting. When you get to talk about your own city, you think about it in a completely different way. It came as a revelation to me: “Aha! Maybe I do quite a lot after all!” says Elina.

A concrete example that the students bring up when we talk about different effective ways to get more young people involved in local politics is that before the elections they invited parliamentary candidates and youth associations to debate against each other in front of upper secondary school students from all three grades. Elina’s and Leontine’s class took on the role of moderators and during the preparations they asked other students about the topics which were most important to them.

– It was crime and security, climate issues… Many questions were about the Armed Forces, but also a bit about migration, and welfare. More specifically, how to get more young people involved in healthcare.

Trust in society is important

Ida Malmer, ungdomsombud i Lund. Foto: Olga Shadura.
If you don’t have faith that society is listening to you and that you can influence your own life and the society around you, then you lose trust in the whole structure of society”, says Ida Malmer, Youth Ombudsman in Lund. Foto: Olga Shadura.

One of the issues discussed during the meeting between the young people of Lund and the participants of the network was the role of Youth Ombudsman and Youth Associations, and how they reach out to the young people of Lund and get them involved in their activities. Youth Ombudsmen Ida Malmer, 20, and Emma Lewin, 26, work with three different fora: the Youth Forum, which offers various lectures, workshops and other activities and is open to everyone between 12 and 25, the Influence Café, a forum for students with experience of having been in special needs schools, and a Student Council Day, which is for student council activists.

Ida Malmer says that the big challenge in the role of Youth Ombudsman is to reach out to all young people, and one of the groups whose participation has been low is young people who have been to special needs schools:

– We went out and asked students and teachers in special needs schools, “How do you want to have an impact and on what issues?” And then they came to the conclusion that they wanted to have their own influence café. It’s always a challenge to reach young people and get them to come to the Youth Forum. The important thing is that young people have trust in society. If you don’t have faith that society is listening to you and that you can influence your own life and the society around you, then you lose trust in the whole structure of society,” says Ida Malmer.

Colleague Emma Lewin adds that sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we live in a democracy where everyone has rights regardless of age:

– And one of them is that you should have a say and an opinion, says Emma. Decisions made at local level will often affect young people for many years to come. So they should have the right to have their say, because they will have to live with the consequences.

International cooperation benefits Lund

Anders Almgren, oppositionsråd, och Philip Sandberg, kommunalråd, Lunds kommun. Foto: Olga Shadura.
Anders Almgren, Deputy Mayor, and Philip Sandberg, Executive Mayor, Lund Municipality. Photo: Olga Shadura.

It is important to point out here that there is a consensus between the young people we meet and Lund’s municipal politicians from both the majority and the opposition on the issue of Lund’s international involvement and their choice to have a democracy promoting project with a municipality in Botswana. Executive Mayor Philip Sandberg underlines the mutual benefit of the project for the both parts and says that Lund, which is among the best in the world on issues such as climate change and human rights, can both share its experiences with others and always has more to learn from others.

– We see it as natural that a municipality like Lund is not only looking inwards and focusing on the day-to-day running of the municipality, even though that is of course the most important thing. We must also work on the other side of the municipal border with partners both regionally and internationally.

Oppositionsrådet Anders Almgren med sina kollegor från Lunds kommun under ICLD:s workshop för MR-nätverket. Foto: Olga Shadura.

Anders Almgren, Deputy Mayor in Lund, agrees. According to the politician, there is a strong commitment to international issues, partnerships and solidarity actions located in Lund, and this is something that is demanded by the population. He also highlights the importance of reciprocity in the partnership with Botswana:

– Just as we are a city where people know a lot and are characterised by knowledge, we are also a place that is open to learning and gaining new insights and perspectives.

And when asked what the politicians want to get out of this cooperation, Philip Sandberg replies that his hope is that the project will involve young people in Lund and Francistown and that they will be able to dream big.

– I hope that new ideas, new opportunities, new thoughts will come out of it. And I think it’s crucial for the long-term preservation and development of democracy – that our kids also see how much this freedom we have achieved today means and that we don’t take it for granted.

In turn, Lund’s Youth Ombudsman Ida Malmer hopes that more of Lund’s young people will choose to get involved in the project and be inspired by others:

– Sometimes I feel that we in Sweden are quite complacent in that we are democratic, equal and the best when it comes to fighting climate change. Of course, we should be satisfied with the things we do well, but I can also see a danger in that satisfaction makes us lag behind in development. And then I think we have a lot to learn from others. If we want to continue to be the best, we need to speed up a bit.