Young leaders from Myanmar shared their struggles in fostering youth participation during a forum organized by Alyansang Tapat sa Lasalista (Tapat) dubbed Voices of Myanmar: Challenges to Youth Participation, which was held in room Y408 in the Yuchengco Hall last September 10.
The guests represented the youth organization network, National Youth Congress (NYC), which aims to empower the youth in Myanmar’s democratic transition.
The talk on youth participation and governance likewise featured a panel of young Filipino leaders who also expressed their own insights and similar experiences with trying to encourage participation among the youth. The event was part of a series of activities under the Youth Leaders Study Visit Program by the NYC and the Filipino non-government organization Center for Youth Advocacy and Networking.
National Youth Congress
Since the establishment of their organization in 2013, the leaders of NYC have had the same vision—to have more active participation from the youth in every sector of the country. Kyaw Ye Htet, NYC’s Program Coordinator, shared some of their goals. He explained that NYC aims to connect with international youth movements, strengthen collaboration within youth networks, develop a national policy, and to strengthen NYC to represent all the youth of the nation.
To realize their goals, NYC has conducted forums, events, workshops, and research. NYC also recognized past events arranged by other organizations, including Myanmar Youth Forums in 2012, 2014, and 2016, which had the same goal of improving youth participation. In the same way, other forums such as the ASEAN Youth forum in 2014 also took part in increasing the presence of the youth in national issues.
State of the Myanmar’s youth
Though there is no official definition of what ages comprise the Myanmar’s youth, Secretariat Team member Mai Rose Mary shared that it is commonly understood that the category consists of people between 18 to 35 years old. She also imparted that their country’s 2014 census states that 60 percent of the country’s population alone is composed of individuals below 35 years of age.
She revealed, however, that youth participation in the country’s legislature was only at 8.23 percent, and that there were no youth representatives in the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, a political discussion body.
Nearly 70 percent of those in the 18 to 34 years old demographic have not completed high school, Rose pointed out: “We have a very bad education system. And only those who live in the urban city can afford to go to school, but mostly, in the rural area, they don’t go to school—rather than go to school, they will help their families work.”
Further, while the majority of young men and women enjoy some kind of employment, the “very low” minimum wage—which the Myanmar government officially puts at 4,800 kyats, roughly equivalent to P163, for a working day of eight hours—creates high migration rates of 80 percent among young people, who mostly go to neighboring Southeast Asian countries or to those with more advanced economies in search of better job opportunities.
Facing domestic issues
Asked to share the domestic social problems affecting Myanmar, Thet Paing Myo, a member of NYC’s Steering Committee, gave examples that he also considered as hindrances for the youth in their country. One of which was that people were afraid of getting caught in the crossfire between armed civilians and the military.
Paing also described the issue with education, saying, “Many of [the] students are in the frontlines of [the] revolution because most of our [revolutions] stem from university [campuses].” He also said that one concern was their freedom of expression, which “has been limited for a long time—over 60 years.”
Unease over peace, education, and freedom of expression, he described, continued to plague their country.
Meanwhile, Ken Azcarraga, the event’s project head from Tapat, described anxieties over the situation in the Philippines. “Right now, I feel like we have slowly gone back to those old ways [in the martial law era], where we as a people feel like we don’t have that freedom of speech that we used to have,” he told the visiting speakers.
‘No youth inclusion’
In a panel discussion, Rose explained that “there is no youth inclusion at all” in decision-making in national matters. She clarified that while there are young people present in bodies like certain peace-monitoring organizations, they only function as technical support, “They are on the margin; they are not included in decision-making.”
Akbayan Youth National Chairperson Chao Cabatingan likewise shared, “There’s really minimal to [no] youth participation as from the government” in the peace process in the Philippines. He advised that the efforts shown by the guests from the NYC are something to learn from.
Paing mentioned that peace, education, and freedom of expression are the local issues that the NYC aims to address to increase youth participation. He discussed that in Myanmar, freedom of expression has been limited for a long time.
In the same manner, Azcarraga claimed that the Filipino people lack the “freedom of speech that [they] used to have”, and cited Tapat’s goal to “fight for democracy and change” through various projects and initiatives in response to the said concern. “Now [is] the time to bring back [the] passion to bring change to society. What better way to do that than [by] empowering the youth,” he asserted.
with reports from Yanna Zang