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Friday, August 12, 2022

International Youth Day: What changes do young adults want?


Our youths are clamouring for more involvement in the political sphere as the nation counts down to the first general election with voters and candidates as young as 18.

Seeing it as a step in the right direction, young adults met by Malaysiakini hope this could be part of a greater journey towards youth empowerment in public discourse.

Youth activist Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam expressed optimism that if more young people have a say in policymaking, Malaysia will progress further.

"With Undi18 rolling in, I am glad the voice of the youth will finally hold weight at a policymaking level.

"Now (they will become) voters… maybe soon policymakers," she said.

For law graduate Tanusha Low, 22, the right to vote means young people can be more engaged in pushing for policies related to their age group.

Tanusha Low

"We now have more opportunities for the younger generation to be actively involved in solving issues that directly affect our lives.

"This includes widening voting access and addressing environmental issues," Low said.

But not all young people believe expanding the right to vote will necessarily bring a positive sea change.

Content creator Ahmad Adam Edmund, 22, said political activism and democratic participation cannot exist without political education.

"Just allowing the youth a chance to contribute to something should also work in tandem with revamping our education system from the ground-up; teaching future generations fundamentally important topics so that they can make complicated decisions with a level head and more knowledge," he added.

Ahmad Adam is not alone in these views.

In 2018, former Malaysian Bar president Ambiga Sreenevasan called for political education to start earlier in schools to prepare young people for voting once they turn 18.

Without exposure, many youths are unaware of political realities and as a result, may be disinterested in issues that could affect their futures.

Adam Raqeem, 22, believes that providing an opportunity for young people to participate may not translate to engagement.

Adam Raqeem

"Youth nowadays just have no interest in these types of issues. In fact, I can assume that some of my friends do not know who the prime minister is," he said.

The time is now

For the politically engaged, however, Undi18 is an opportunity to change how young people are perceived.

Sharwini Thiakarajah said instead of being viewed as leaders of tomorrow, Undi18 means youths can be leaders of today.

The film and broadcasting student added that it would be difficult for Malaysia to progress as a democratic nation without youth representation.

Sharwini Thiakarajah

Sharwini noted that the only youth leader in policymaking most Malaysians know of is Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.

"For the longest time, people who are significantly older have been running our country, and although their experiences could be considered helpful, it is often linear and out of date.

"As a democratic country, we should be allowed the diversity in age to make all voices heard, especially since our youths are our future," the 22-year-old said.

Youths heading many fields

Low pointed out that Malaysia is not short of youth leaders in other spheres.

Refugee rights organisation Refuge for Refugees and climate action group Klima Action Malaysia are both spearheaded by young people.

"Both these organisations are founded and run by youths under the age of 30 and should be acknowledged and honoured for representing Malaysians in such a positive light," Low said.

These organisations also tackle issues which young people believe are essential and may not be at the forefront of older policymakers’ agendas.

It starts with education

Asked what changes they want to see, the youths Malaysiakini spoke to said they want better policies on sexual harassment, child marriage, diversity and inclusivity, minimum wage and transparency in voting.

But at the top of their priority list is education for all.

Ahmad Adam Edmund

Ahmad Adam said it’s important for there to be more educational opportunities for the underprivileged, as well as movements and campaigns for better educational material for the youth.

"Teachers should be encouraged to make students more explorative and open - and not funnelled into a singular mode of thinking,” he added.

Ain shared the same view, expressing that education is a basic human right.

"I want to see more youths receiving world-class education right here in Malaysia," she said.

Power of social media

Youth movements locally and abroad have also proven how young people are able to bring change to issues that have been swept under the rug for years.

Sharwini cited Ain’s case, where her TikTok video on a rape joke told by a teacher prompted widespread public outrage.

Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam

"The culture of keeping these situations under the radar is something that I think the youth of Malaysia will easily defeat due to the age of social media," Sharwini said.

Unlike their predecessors, Low opined that the youth of today have direct access to decision-makers through social media and can also use this avenue to participate in public discourse.

"Our generation's use of social media also plays a huge role in spreading these movements to a wider audience and garnering more support,” the law graduate added.

Youths will be heard

Aside from that, the young adults also stressed that occasions such as International Youth Day are instrumental for young people bringing change in tackling global issues and achieving sustainable development.

Low said that this day should be a reminder that the voices of young adults do matter and are not void.

"In this exciting and often chaotic phase between childhood and adulthood, it is important that young people are given a platform to stay informed and engage in discussions about matters which affect them and shape their future, such as healthcare, employment and the economy," she added. - Mkini

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