Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Put youth issues on front burner

Published:Friday | February 26, 2016 | 2:30 AMKemesha Kelly
Kemesha Kelly

So, February 25 has come and gone, and many young people are perhaps relieved that the election is over.

We have now given a new mandate to a new government for the continued development and growth of this great nation.

I spend much time in the Twitterverse, and on Thursday, I was heartened to see the number of young people who participated in the general election.

There were many first-time voters who were excited to post their inky finger.

As an officer of the Youth and Adolescent Policy Division of the Ministry of Youth and Culture, I was able to engage with young people off social media.

From my interactions, they, too, were quite happy to participate in the democratic process.

I am minded to believe that we are turning a corner on youth, voting apathy, but only demographic data from the Electoral Office of Jamaica will be conclusive.

Youth unemployment has been a problem in Jamaica for quite some time. The rate peaked at 37 per cent in July 2013.

Thankfully, it has been trending down, and as at July 2015, the rate is just under 30 per cent. This is still high, and much higher than many of our Latin American and Caribbean counterparts.

TIME FOR YOUTH ACTION

It is time for serious action on youth unemployment. The new government must fast-track the completion of the new National Youth Policy.

Highest priority must be placed on the focal area that speaks to expanding participation in economic activity.

It is not enough to encourage entrepreneurship. While youth entrepreneurship must continue to receive support, not all young people will be entrepreneurs, so opportunities should be provided for them.

These opportunities cannot only reside in the BPO sector, where we also have t he phenomenon of youth underemployment in unstable ventures.

Accountability in government is also important to Jamaica’s young people. We have heard the buzz phrase of ‘better government’ being touted by many politicians.

With our high perception of corruption and young people feeling that once many political representatives get elected, they forget that they serve the people who put them in power, young people are demanding that transparency and accountability be pivotal.

How can we fix this? What accountability mechanism can be put in place?

My good friend and St. Jago alumnus, David Brown, puts it best. He said: “I think a lot of young people would love to see politicians set goals and actually achieve them. There must me a performance-measuring mechanism.”

Many young people have called for members of parliament and government ministers to publish their goals and key performance indicators as they seek to address local and national issues. These should be followed by quarterly updates on the achievement of stated targets. If this comes to fruition, more people will be able to see the good work that is being done.

Additionally, MPs should better engage young people in the development of these goals. Can we see open data collection and the publishing of key indicators? Can we see a reform of the access to information provisions? Can we see the digitisation of government records?

The digital natives are not only tweeting about music and fashion. The articulate minority and the young majority want to participate in governance. The gatekeepers must give access. I have seen in manifestos the reference to ‘vulnerable’ groups.

The youth population in Jamaica is very diverse, across lines of gender, religion, rural and urban demography, and sexual orientation.

Something must be done to address gender-based violence and sexual harassment. I make the argument, quite often, that millennials are really and truly less concerned about a person’s sexual orientation.

Yes, I know it is still a touchy topic, but I am going there. If we are truly ‘Out of Many, One People’, all Jamaicans must be respected. The Government must enact anti-discrimination legislation and protect the rights of all Jamaicans, including our LGBT fellowmen, including and especially in the labour force.

‘JESUS STRONG ON HUMAN RIGHTS’

As a Christian, I know many church groups will give some pushback on this. I am comforted by a line from outstanding woman blogger and friend Emma Lewis.

She said, “I think Jesus was pretty strong on human rights.”

So, no, this is not pushing a gay agenda. This is about youth wanting respect and equality for their friends and family members who are different, but human.

This government, if it is touched or guided by the Master, can ask for more than divine intervention in this area and offer real, decisive leadership.

Making Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business is possible.

It will demand pragmatic leadership and an engaged citizenry.

Together, we can, although I am doubtful that it will be by 2030. Notwithstanding that, I am hopeful that the new government will really engage with the indicators identified in Vision 2030, address youth issues, and move Jamaica forward.

- Kemesha Kelly is a youth advocate and youth-development practitioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and kemesha.a.kelly@gmail.com, or tweet @kemeshakelly