4. Participation and representation of young people and youth stakeholders in public and political life

Across the MENA economies1 surveyed in 2021 by the Arab Barometer, only 28% of young people aged 18-29 expressed trust in their government and public institutions on average, ranging from 47% in Libya, 45% in Jordan and 44% in Morocco, to 23% in Iraq, 19% in Algeria, 11% in Tunisia and 3% in Lebanon (Arab Barometer, 2021[1]). This compares to 47% of people aged 15-29 in OECD countries in 2021 (Gallup, 2021[2]). Among people aged 18-24 surveyed in 2021 across 17 MENA economies2 by the annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, 49% think their public institutions have in place the right policies to address the issues most important to young people (ASDA’A BCW, 2021[3]). This varies significantly across the region. The COVID-19 crisis has further exacerbated this trend. Following an initial increase in trust levels in the early phase of the pandemic, most OECD countries have seen a decline over its course (Brezzi et al., 2021[4]). Similarly, more than one in three OECD-based youth organisations (38%) surveyed by the OECD in 2021 say their members’ trust in government decreased since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, whereas only 16% report an increase (OECD, 2022[5]).

The ability and perception of having a say in politics (openness dimension) is one of eight dimensions the OECD Trust Framework has identified as shaping trust in government (Brezzi et al., 2021[4]). As recognised in the OECD Recommendation on Open Government, governments should make specific efforts “to reaching out to the most relevant, vulnerable, underrepresented, or marginalised groups in society” (OECD, 2017[6]). However, this chapter finds that young people across the MENA region experience barriers that hinder their participation in public and political life and their representation in public institutions (OECD, 2020[7]). For instance, people under 40 years of age represent only 16.4% of members of parliament on average in the MENA region (IPU, 2021[8]), compared with 22% in OECD countries (OECD, 2020[7]). At the same time, young people demonstrate agency in the public sphere by participating in the public debate through non-institutionalised channels and contributing to community life, via civil society and through volunteering activities and online. Ensuring that young people’s views and priorities are taken into account is even more urgent as governments have been mobilising significant public resources in the recovery from COVID-19.

Expressing one’s political voice is also essential to individual well-being (OECD, 2011[9]) and can help young people build skills, agency, and a sense of active citizenship. Furthermore, when citizens trust state institutions, they tend to comply voluntarily with rules to a greater extent and they are more likely to accept short-term costs in exchange of long-term, less tangible benefits (Murphy, 2004[10]). Moreover, by encouraging the participation of young people in political life, public decisions will be informed by the perspectives and views of those who will live with today’s decisions for the longest time, which can contribute to policy outcomes that are more sustainable and responsive over the long term (OECD, 2020[7]). Promoting trust and strengthening the relationship between young people and public institutions is also crucial to ensure the readiness and resilience of societies to future shocks.

Young people have differing outlooks on the future. While some young people across the MENA region express their disappointment with the pace of change, others display optimism for the future. For instance, 60% of young people aged 18-24 from 17 MENA economies3 surveyed in 2021 by the annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey believe their best days lie ahead of them, although results vary significantly across the region (ASDA’A BCW, 2021[3]). At the same time, in some cases the public discourse about young people’s participation to public and political life has been dominated by conceptions that they constitute a potential risk to stability rather than acknowledging that their ideas and perspectives can lead to positive change (Milton-Edwards, 2018[11]). This discourse can fail to acknowledge young people’s positive contributions to their communities and stake in decisions that affect their present and future.

To support public administrations across the MENA region to bridge the gap between young people and their public institutions, this Chapter:

  • analyses data and trends in youth participation and representation the decision-making process including an overview of youth-specific commitments in national open government actions plans;

  • discusses governance challenges creating barriers for a more trustful relationship between young people and public institutions and ways to address them; and

  • highlights the role and examples of youth work and youth volunteering in promoting resilient societies.

Laws and regulations shape young people’s ability to participate in public and political life, most notably in the form of minimum age requirements to vote or run as a candidate in elections (OECD, 2020[7]). To balance between the objective to protect young people, on the one hand, and to empower them, on the other, careful consideration must be given to defining such thresholds. Otherwise, they may act as legal barriers for young people to participate.

As discussed in Chapter 2, Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides an international legal framework to guide the right for all to participate in public affairs (United Nations, 1966[12]). Nearly all (16 out of 19) MENA economies have ratified the ICCPR.4 The right to participate in public and political life is also enshrined in several other treaties, such as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) in Article 21, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in Article 5(c), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in Articles 7 and 8 and in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Article 29 (UNGA, 1948[13]; UNGA, 1965[14]; UNGA, 1979[15]; UNGA, 2007[16]).

The conventions mentioned above stipulate the right (1) to take part in public affairs; (2) to vote and be elected in general elections; and (3) to have access to public positions. They also oblige governments to uphold these rights without discrimination based on race, descent, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, birth, disability, nationality or status. The right of participation is also inextricably connected to an environment enabling citizen participation, such as the right to peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to education and information (OHCRH, 1996-2019[17]).

While age is not a category of potential discrimination in these treaties, Article 15 of the Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC) affirms the right of participation in public and political life for every human being below the age of 18. All MENA economies have ratified the CRC (UNGA, 1989[18]).

The World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY) (UNGA, 1996[19]), which was ratified by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 1996, has served as basis for more recent initiatives to promote the rights and participation of young people, such as the 1998 Lisbon Declaration of Youth Policies and Programmes and the 2014 Baku Commitments to Youth Policies (World Conference of Ministers, 1998[20]; Office of the Secretary-General Envoy on Youth et al., 2014[21]). To acknowledge the role young people can play in building more resilient and peaceful societies, the UN Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security was adopted in 2016 (UNSC, 2016[22]). Besides sectoral approaches, the OECD Recommendation on Creating Better Opportunities for Young People provides adherents with policy guidance on whole-of-government strategies across five thematic pillars, including ways to strengthen young people’s trust in government and their relationship with public institutions (OECD, 2022[23]).

At the regional level, the African Youth Charter recognises the right of every young person to participate in the public sphere (Article 11) and requires adherents, which include Egypt, Libya, Mauritania and Tunisia, to take active measures and implement strategies to empower young people and foster their participation in the public sphere (African Union, 2006[24]).

The participation of young people in public and political life must be underpinned by an enabling environment and the protection of civic space, which is shaped by the legal, policy, institutional settings in place, and actual practices, and requires governments to take proactive action to countering negative trends, in addition to monitoring standards. This includes the ability for young people and youth organisations to access relevant and reliable information, express themselves freely and without fear of repercussions, and form associations as well as to engage in meaningful ways in open and frank debates about government policies, practices and spending. Research confirms that promoting civic freedoms can lead to better societal outcomes, for instance in terms of economic growth and human development (Hogg, 2018[25])

In some parts of the MENA region, the environment for young people to participate in public and political life remains challenging. In seven MENA economies surveyed by Arab Barometer in 2021, young people aged 18-29 years-old report varied confidence in the protection of their civil liberties (Figure 4.1). The percentage of young citizens who say that their freedom to express opinions is guaranteed to a medium or great extent is 54%, an increase from 46% in 2018 but a decrease from 60% in 2016 (Arab Barometer, 2021[1]). Similarly, the percentage of young citizens who say that their freedom to participate in peaceful protests and demonstrations opinions is guaranteed to a medium or great extent is 47%, an increase from 39% in 2018 but a decrease from 49% in 2016 (Arab Barometer, 2021[1])

Media and digital rights and freedoms are increasingly recognised as important determinants for an enabling environment and civic space as digital tools have grown to become primary ways for young people to inform and express themselves, communicate, and associate. Across the MENA economies5 surveyed by the Arab Barometer in 2018, 60% of young people aged 18-29 year-old spent two or more hours per day on social media, compared to 37% among those aged 30-49 years-old and 25% among those aged 50+ years-old (Arab Barometer, 2018[26]). Social media is the primary source of news for 61% of young people across 17 MENA economies6 surveyed by the annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey in 2021, compared to television (43%), internet (34%) and newspapers (9%), which increases their likelihood of being exposed to misinformation (ASDA’A BCW, 2021[3]).

Fewer than one in ten (8.6%) young people ages 18-29 years reported they did not use the Internet daily across the MENA economies surveyed by the Arab Barometer in 2018, including from Kuwait (0%), to Lebanon (0.7%), to Jordan (3.6%), to the Palestinian Authority (5%), to Algeria (6.5%), to Morocco (7.2%), to Tunisia (9%), to Egypt (9.6%), to Iraq (10.6%), to Libya (11.8%) and to Yemen (23%) (Arab Barometer, 2018[26]). Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis has revealed significant digital divides among young people, which can be exacerbated by intersecting identities such as gender, education attainment, income level and rural/urban location, among others. Measures to ensure more inclusive access to electronic devices, digital skills, and connectivity and to safeguard online spaces for young people to express themselves are needed to address such divides (OECD, 2021[27]). As recognised in the OECD Recommendation on Open Government, participation should be inclusive, thus the need for governments to take the digital divide into consideration when creating an enabling environment for young people to participate in public and political life (OECD, 2017[6]).

Beyond the protection and promotion of basic rights, governments can actively shape an enabling environment by providing access to quality information and open government data.

Access to Information (ATI) legislation should facilitate public access to and encourage re-use of government-held data to increase transparency and accountability in policymaking and create opportunities for media, civil society and citizens to act as watchdogs of government action (OECD, 2016[28]). As of 2022, 37 out of 38 OECD countries have adopted an access to information law (OECD/UN ESCWA, 2021[29]). Driven by the demand of young people and in the context of their open government agendas, some MENA administrations have engaged in legal and institutional reforms to strengthen access to information systems (Table 4.1). So far, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen have enacted Access to Information legislation (OECD/UN ESCWA, 2021[29]) and Morocco and Tunisia introduced the right to access information in their new constitutions (OECD/UN ESCWA, 2021[29]). In Tunisia, the constitution “guarantees the right to information and the right of access to information and communication networks” in its Article 32 (OECD, 2021[30]). Tunisia’s access to information law is ranked among the world’s best, according to the Centre of Law and Democracy, among others due to the special institution, with a judiciary status, that has been created to enforce this right (OECD/UN ESCWA, 2021[29]).

Adopting ATI laws alone is not sufficient. Their effective implementation is needed to translate them into impactful change. The Center for Law and Democracy7 has elaborated a worldwide Right To Information (RTI) rating8 for ATI laws according to seven categories of indicators, on a scale of 0-150, namely: right of access, scope, requesting procedures, exceptions and refusals, appeals, sanctions and protections, and promotional measures (OECD/UN ESCWA, 2021[29]). However, the RTI ranking only evaluates the content of ATI laws, not their implementation or enforcement in practice. For instance, the ATI law in Yemen is ranked high, but it lacks implementation tools given the ongoing conflict. Tunisia’s ATI law is the highest ranked in the MENA region. In Morocco, the ATI law is supported by a Right to Information (RTI) commission, which is linked to the Prime Minister’s office and includes representatives from several CSOs. The COVID-19 crisis has encouraged governments to make fast progress in the area of e-government, open government data and digital services and thus constitutes an opportunity for governments to engage in more innovative approaches with citizens, including in the context of implementing ATI laws (OECD/UN ESCWA, 2021[29]).

Access to and use of open data can encourage young people to participate in public and political life and hold government accountable, as recognised by the OECD Recommendation on Open Government and the OECD Recommendation on Digital Government Strategies (OECD, 2014[31]; OECD, 2017[6]). Open data can increase transparency, help tackle corruption, ameliorate the allocation of public resources and generate economic returns (Box 4.1). Studies suggest that the added GDP value associated with open data fluctuates between roughly 0.4% and 1.6%, which can further increase by 0.5% when adopting a free access model (OECD, 2021[30]). Many MENA administrations have launched open data strategies to promote transparency and accountability of the public administration and sector, including the development of specific open data portals in Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates (OECD/UN ESCWA, 2021[29]).

The OECD Recommendation on Enhancing Access to and Sharing of Data outlines that open data arrangements refers to “non-discriminatory data access and sharing arrangements, where data is machine readable and can be accessed and shared, free of charge, and used by anyone for any purpose subject, at most, to requirements that preserve integrity, provenance, attribution, and openness” (OECD, 2021[32]). At the same time, data protection and privacy regulations should be upheld and complemented by an ethical handling of data. The OECD Digital Government Policy Framework, which builds on the provisions of the OECD Recommendation on Digital Government Strategies and the OECD Good Practice Principles for Data Ethics in the Public Sector, can support public officials in MENA administrations in the implementation of data ethics in digital government such that public integrity and trust are upheld (OECD, 2021[30]).

Civic and citizenship education in schools and through extra-curricular activities is important for young people to understand their rights and duties, to learn how the political system works and to identify opportunities and acquire skills to engage in public and political life from an early age (OECD, 2011[9]).9 The 2017 OECD Recommendation on Public Integrity acknowledges the importance of “carrying out, where appropriate, campaigns to promote civic education on public integrity, among individuals and particularly in schools” (OECD, 2017[33]). This resonates with findings from the OECD report Education for Integrity: Teaching on anticorruption, values and the rule of law (OECD, 2018[34]) that educating children and young people in the field of integrity and anti-corruption will likely have a positive influence on future civic behaviour.

According to UNICEF (UNICEF, 2017[35]), an increasing number of civic and citizenship education programmes have been implemented in the MENA region in the last years. These programmes cover topics such as civic society and systems, civic principles (equality, social cohesion and human rights), civic identities (national, regional and religious identities) and civic participation (decision-making, influencing policy and community participation). However, the organisation of civic and citizenship education in formal educational settings remains limited. Policy makers and practitioners find it challenging to integrate citizenship education into education systems due to the lack of conceptual frameworks that define concepts, offer a holistic vision for citizenship education – and more generally life skills - and lay out the type of values to be taught (UNICEF, 2017[35]). Moreover, most of the programmes on civic and citizenship education are run by NGOs (77%), while only 18% are implemented by insstitutional organisations and only 5% address active engagement as a specific skill (UNICEF, 2017[35]).

Results from the OECD Youth Governance Survey suggest that four of the ministries in charge of youth affairs covered in this report run activities to strengthen active citizenship among young people. For instance, the Palestinian Authority holds each year summer camps attended by young leaders in all areas including refugee camps to strengthen the values of citizenship. In Jordan, civic education is taught once a week as part of the educational curriculum to grades 5-10 students, aiming to develop good citizenship and to strengthen the sense of loyalty and belonging to their country and to the Arabic and Islamic nation (OECD, 2021[27]; UNESCO, 2017[36]). The effectiveness of such curricula is however also dependent on the levels of training of teachers in this field, the framing of “good citizenship” and the extent to which textbook-based civic education is linked with more practical and skills-focused aspects (OECD, 2021[27]). In Tunisia, civic education is taught as a subject in its own right during the primary, preparatory and secondary cycles (from 6 to 18 years of age) (OECD, 2021[37]). Topics covered in civic education include human rights, national and international mechanisms for protecting human rights, the rights, duties and responsibilities of citizens, and more broadly human values (tolerance, cooperation, and solidarity), political systems and the role of the citizen in a democratic system. The teaching of this subject is based on a pedagogical method that favours active participation of students in various stages of learning, notably through the establishment of group work and the use of case studies (OECD, 2021[37]).

Civic and citizenship education should not be merely a theoretical exercise and limited to discussions in classrooms. The participation of students in school governance, such as student councils, community service, volunteering activities and other extra-curricular activities provide a space to apply theoretical knowledge in practice (Box 4.2). For instance, the Finnish National Youth Council Alliance conducts mock elections simultaneously with national and EU elections to introduce to voting those who are too young to take part in the elections.10 In parallel to the 2019 Finnish parliamentary elections, more than 600 schools and 60,000 students took part in such mock elections. Similar initiatives also take place in Jordan with the support of international organisations and donors; furthermore, Jordan’s National Youth Strategy for 2019-25 aims to deliver 36 workshops per year on democracy and citizenship by 2025, primarily delivered through its youth centres.

Young people’s participation in voting remains low in OECD and MENA societies. In OECD countries for which data exists from 2012-2018, electoral turnout for young people aged 15-24 years old stands at 68% on average, compared to 85% of older adults aged 54+ years old (OECD, 2020[7]; OECD, 2020[39]). As shown in Figure 4.2, Arab Barometer data from 2016 indicates that young people in the MENA region vote less and are less likely to be a member of a political party or attend campaign rallies than older people (Arab Barometer, 2016[40]). However, young people are more likely to participate in political events than older people. There is no significant difference between younger and older people in terms of attending meetings and signing petitions.

Engaging young people in political decision-making in OECD governments and MENA administrations is crucial as the costs of emerging and long-standing challenges, including climate change and the COVID-19 crisis, among others, will fall for a large part on the shoulders of the current younger generations.

The participation of young people in elections is affected by a variety of factors, including their interest in politics. Interest in politics is also an important factor for social cohesion and for young people to become engaged politically beyond elections.

In the MENA economies surveyed by Arab Barometer in 2018, between 35% (Egypt) and 59% (Tunisia) of young people aged 18-29 years reported they are not interested in politics at all, compared to an average 24% of young people across OECD countries in 2019 (Arab Barometer, 2018[26]; OECD, 2019[41]). Furthermore, in all surveyed MENA economies except Egypt, Sudan and Yemen, young people tend to show less interest in politics than older people aged 50+ years (Figure 4.3). Participation in elections can also be hampered by a lack of confidence that voting will change the country’s direction. In the interviews conducted by OECD, some young people also expressed concerns that becoming politically engaged would result in negative consequences for their present and future opportunities. Additionally, the lack of youth-specific civic education or awareness programmes, the age gap between young people and many politicians, and the negative view that a significant share of young people have of elected officials play a role in explaining low electoral engagement. Electoral disengagement can also constitute a form of protest in itself.

From a governance perspective, voter registration rules, voting age requirements and the access to and quality of civic education can encourage or discourage young people to vote. Finally, there is a need to create more opportunities for young people, and citizens in general, to participate in public decision making beyond elections as a way to increase public interest in elections.

Voter registration requirements can represent a considerable challenge especially for first-time voters who may move out from their parental home and change residency. To facilitate registration, governments can adopt automatic registration. For instance, in Jordan, through the 2010 electoral law, fees for registering to vote were waived. The 2012 electoral law stipulated that citizens needed to present their national identity card and a voter card to vote at the polling station, which made it necessary for people to register in person to receive the voter card (OECD, 2021[27]). Since 2016, the Independent Election Commission became responsible for managing the voter registration, automatically drawing from the civil registry, which is updated by the Civil Status and Passports Department under the Ministry of Interior. Furthermore, the national identification card became the unique document for voting: these changes led to the inclusion of 82% more voters compared to the 2013 election (OECD, 2021[27]).

Many OECD countries have adopted a variety of measures to facilitate the registration of young people to vote. In the United States, for example, several states allow for the registration of minors under the age of 18 so that they are eligible to vote immediately upon reaching voting age. This decision has had a direct positive impact on youth voter turnout (OECD, 2021[37]; Holbein and Hillygus, 2016[42]). Similar in Jordan, the minimum age required to vote is 18 years, but citizens can be added to the voter list already at 17 years 90 days (OECD, 2021[27]). In the United Kingdom, voter registration is now possible online in an effort to make the process easier and faster. In France, student organisations and youth movements have proposed to make the rules for registering to vote more flexible and allow citizens to register up to 10 days before elections and thus facilitate their access to voting (OECD, 2021[37]).

Governments also need to ensure that young citizens have accessible information at hand on how to register and vote, for instance through information and registration campaigns in schools, universities, and other places where young people socialise. Social media can also be leveraged too, for example by prominently displaying reliable information and links to governmental websites to all users of voting age.

The use of minimum-age requirements to determine access to services is common across policy fields such as compulsory education, admission to employment, marriageable age, criminal responsibility, access to specific justice or health services and recruitment into the armed forces. Moreover, minimum ages also play an important role in determining young people’s access to voting and positions of political influence. All MENA administrations covered in this report maintain the age of majority at 18 years. However there is significant variance across the region in the minimum age required to vote and run as candidates in elections (Figure 4.4).

In the sphere of political participation, all OECD countries set the voting age for national elections at 18, apart from Greece (17) and Austria (16) (OECD, 2020[7]). Furthermore, some OECD countries have set the voting age for subnational elections below 18 (OECD, 2020[7]). Similar, most of the surveyed MENA administrations set the minimum voting age at 18 years. The minimum age required to vote in Lebanon is 21 years, with a pending, proposed amendment to the 2017 electoral law that would lower the voting age to 18 years.

The minimum age needed to run for public office varies more significantly. Across the OECD, an average of 19.8 years is required to run for a seat in the national parliament (OECD, 2020[7]). In turn, it is 30 years in Qatar,11 28 years in the Palestinian Authority, 25 years in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Mauritania, 23 years in Tunisia and 18 years in Morocco. In Jordan, the minimum age to run for parliament was reduced from 30 to 25 years as part of a broader constitutional reform in 2022 (Reuters, 2022[43]). At the subnational level, the threshold for candidates to run for elected office is 25 years in Jordan, Lebanon and Mauritania and 22 years in the Palestinian Authority. Sundström and Stockemer (2018[44]) find that for every year candidate age requirements are lowered, the share of young deputies aged 40 and lower increases by more than 1 percentage point (OECD, 2021[27]).

Young women can face additional legal barriers compared to their male counterparts when it comes to their participation in public and political life. For instance, in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria, women are prevented from passing on their nationality to their children and spouses. This has increased the risk of statelessness faced by children and young people, which creates an additional barrier to participation in public and political life (UNHCR, & OHCRH, 2010[46]). On the other hand, in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, laws have been passed in the past decade to grant each woman the right to pass on their nationality (Albarazi, 2017[47]; UNHCR, & OHCRH, 2010[46]). In the United Arab Emirates, a presidential decree in 2019 announced that Emirati women with foreign spouses may apply for citizenship on behalf of their children when they reach six years of age (Gulf Business, 2019[48]).

The legal barriers that young people encounter in public and political life can fuel feelings of exclusion and, in turn, distrust in government, parliaments, and the electoral system. According to data from the Arab Barometer, citizens’ interest in politics decreased by 11% between the 2006-2013 and 2016-2018 surveys (Wee, 2019[49]). Moreover, low trust among young people in state institutions may partially explain the emergence of alternative forms of participation, including protests and online mobilisation, among others.

Representative democracy does not require its institutions to mirror the composition of the population one-to-one and demographics alone do not determine the access of younger people to decision-making bodies. However, large representation gaps are a warning sign about norms, rules and regulations that hamper young people’s access to these bodies and that may fuel disenchantment and disinterest in politics among them (OECD, 2020[7]).

In addition to constitutional reform, discussed in Chapter 2, youth quotes are an available mechanism to increase the representation of younger people in public institutions. Youth quotas have been endorsed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly and have been adopted by some governments (OECD, 2020[7]). For instance, Sweden has adopted a 25% quote for candidates under the age of 35 within party lists and, as of 2018, 12.3% of parliamentarians were under 30 years-old and 34.1% were under 40 years-old (OECD, 2020[7]). OECD quantitative analysis shows that there is a mild tendency between having a higher share of young parliamentarians and young people expressing more interest in politics (OECD, 2020[7]).

In the MENA region, Morocco and Tunisia have adopted new electoral laws to encourage the representation of young people and women in positions of political influence (Belschner, 2018[50]). Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan have introduced youth quotas in their constitutions (Congressional Research Service, 2021[51]). For example, according to Morocco’s 2011 electoral law, 30 seats shall be reserved for candidates under the age of 40 and 60 seats shall be reserved for women in the national parliament (OCDE, 2021[52]). In Tunisia, the youth quota applies to the municipal level (Yerkes, 2019[53]). The share of young candidates in local elections increased following the adoption of a revised electoral law (Loi organique n° 2017-7) stating that one-third of the candidates should be below the age of 35 (Official Gazette of The Republic of Tunisia, 2017[54]). In Jordan, no seats are reserved on the basis of age whereas gender and minority quotas exist (OECD, 2021[27]).

Despite the introduction of youth quotas in the electoral laws and constitutions in some countries, overall, the representation of young people in public institutions remains very low compared to their demographic weight. Young men and women in the MENA region remain largely underrepresented in public institutions and are often excluded from the political arena due to their age, limited opportunities, and presumed lack of experience. Traditional stereotypes continue to shape the perception of many young candidates and even office holders to be “too young to run and govern.” For instance, although the situation varies across the MENA region (Figure 4.5), young people under 40 years of age represent only 16.4% of members of Parliament on average in the MENA region (IPU, 2021[8]). In comparison, across OECD countries, 22% of member of parliaments are under 40 years of age (OECD, 2020[7]).

Women are also disproportionately underrepresented in governing bodies, with slow improvements in some governments. In turn, a number of administrations in the region have introduced gender quotas for national and subnational elected bodies, including in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia,12 Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.13 While the introduction of gender quotas has not always resulted in a tangible improvement of women’s representation, among others due to occasions of political corruption and nepotism in assigning these seats (Congressional Research Service, 2021[51]), the lessons learned from this experience could inform efforts to increase the representation of young people in public institutions.

Age-representation gaps are often more pronounced in countries’ leaderships. For instance, as of 2018, across OECD countries, the average age of cabinet members varied between 45 and 62 years, with an average of 53 years (OECD, 2018[55]). Similarly in the MENA region, there is a low share of young people in cabinets. According to data from the Hayat Centre, the average age of Jordan’s cabinet members was 59 years as of September 2020 (OECD, 2021[27]). As for the Moroccan government, while the average age of the cabinet remains high, several ministers under the age of 45 have joined the most recent government (OECD, 2021[56]). In the United Arab Emirates, 5 out of 32 (16%) of ministers are under the age of 35 in the cabinet at the time of writing. Lowering the age required for candidacy alone is unlikely to result in a substantial increase in the number of young people running for public office. Young people face other challenges, such as the financial burden of campaigning that is aggravated in some MENA economies by factors such as social dynamics, norms, and perceptions that young people lack the experience and knowledge to engage politically (OECD, 2018[55]). The dominance of personal connections, “wasta”, further limits the opportunities of young people to rise to higher ranks as their social networks are typically smaller than those of longer-serving politicians and public authorities.

Stakeholder participation is defined as “all the ways in which stakeholders can be involved in the policy cycle and in service design and delivery, including information […], consultation […] and engagement” (OECD, 2017[6]). The OECD Recommendation on Open Government underlines that stakeholder participation can increase government inclusiveness and accountability and calls on governments to “grant all stakeholders equal and fair opportunities to be informed and consulted and actively engage them in all phases of the policy-cycle and service design and delivery” (OECD, 2017[6]).

OECD analysis shows that youth organisations that were involved in the policy cycle to a greater extent also reported higher satisfaction with government’s performance across public service areas such as transportation, health, housing and employment (OECD, 2020[7]). At the same time, according to the OECD Youth Governance Surveys, only 26% of youth organisations reported to be satisfied with governments’ performance on the participation of young people in public and political life. Governments need to grant stakeholders equal and fair opportunities to be informed and consulted and actively engage them in all phases of the policy-cycle and service design and delivery, from the identification of needs and policy priorities, to implementation and monitoring and evaluating its impact.

The preference of young people for non-institutionalised channels over institutionalised channels has been recognised as a trend across OECD countries (OECD, 2020[7]). Young people are increasingly exploring new and informal ways to make their voices heard. Digital technologies and more especially social media have become essential tools in this regard.

In the MENA region, 81% of young people ages 18-29 report using the internet daily and 97% of them report using social media daily as of 2018 (Arab Barometer, 2018[26]). Social media has evolved as young people’s primary news source in MENA over the past decade, aided by expanding telecom networks, increased data provisions and greater smart-phone penetration (ASDA’A BCW, 2021[3]). Nearly two-thirds (61%) of respondents to the 2021 Arab Youth survey said they got their news from social media, followed by TV (43%) and online news portals (34%) (ASDA’A BCW, 2021[3]). Printed newspapers were the choice of only 9% of surveyed young people, down from 27% two years earlier (ASDA’A BCW, 2021[3]).

Increasing social media penetration also poses mental health and lifestyle challenges, with more than two-thirds (67%) of young people saying they struggle to disconnect from social media (ASDA’A BCW, 2021[3]). The most used social media platform in the region is Facebook and Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria are ranked in the top 10 places for the fastest growing number of Facebook users (Radcliffe, 2021[57]). At the same time, studies suggest that uptake of social media among young people does not automatically translates into higher political engagement (Wee, 2019[49]). For instance, Arab Barometer data shows that people ages 30-49 years old are more likely to engage politically online and express their opinion than younger generations despite being less active on social media, except in Tunisia (Figure 4.6). In comparison, in 2018, 23% of people aged 15-29 surveyed across 22 OECD countries in the European Social Survey reported that they had shared or posted online about politics in the previous 12 months, compared to 15% of respondents aged 30+ (OECD, 2018[58]).

Young people have catalysed social media and other online channels to raise their voices on issues around inequality and discrimination, climate change, the freedom of speech on the internet, and ethnic violence, with significant ripple effects on public debates as well as national and international policy agendas (OECD, 2020[7]). At the same time, non-institutionalised channels show limitations with concerns around issues of transparency, accountability, and unequal access across society, such as by education level, gender, and socio-economic background (OECD, 2020[7]).

An enabling environment for young people to participate in the policy cycle can also be strengthened through effective and youth-targeted public communication. Results from the OECD Youth Governance Survey indicate that all responding MENA administrations use specific channels to inform young people about relevant programmes, policies, and services (Figure 4.7). For instance, Jordan’s National Youth Strategy 2019-25 highlights communication with young people as one of the most important priorities in building and developing the strategy. The main communication channels used are official websites, traditional and social media and public meetings. Other communication means mentioned include written notices displayed in public venues (ministries, municipalities, agencies, deconcentrated administrations, etc.) and press conferences. In the case of Tunisia and Morocco, an associated entity (i.e. National Youth Observatory in Tunisia: Youth Democratic Institute in Morocco) facilitates communication with young people. These entities involve young people occasionally in consultations and in the design of policies and programmes dedicated to them.

In the United Arab Emirates, the Federal Youth Authority shares a newsletter on a weekly basis with over 50,000 subscribers and has active social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter. In Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco, an increasing number of ministries and politicians communicate to citizens and young people through social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. For instance, the Ministry of Youth in Jordan has undertaken efforts to open new information and communication channels through its Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram profiles since 2016 as well as through weekly newsletters and a YouTube channel (OECD, 2021[27]). In Tunisia, the ministry in charge of youth affairs has a website and a Facebook page posting regular updates. The Tunisian National Youth Observatory is present on social networks and on an application available on Playstore, in addition to its website. In Morocco, the Ministry of Youth has a Facebook page (OECD, 2021[56]). The National Agency for Promotion of Employment and Skills (ANAPEC) in Morocco offers a platform for young people to share their questions and comments with public authorities (OECD, 2021[56]).

The creation of such accounts should be accompanied by a digital strategy that defines the modalities of online presence, and establishes procedures for validating information and for a two-way dialogue. Intermediaries, such as national youth councils and other youth-led and youth-focused advocacy organisations can support governments in reaching out to a wider public of young people and tailor such formats to their user behaviour. Public efforts to communicate with young people should further reflect that a share of young people (8.6%) across the MENA region is offline (Arab Barometer, 2018[26]).

The wide use of social media by young people, however, also increases their risk of being exposed to mis- and dis-information. The OECD report “Public Communication: The Global Context and the Way Forward” explores the role public communication can play in responding to the challenges posed by the spread of mis- and disinformation and in building more resilient media and information ecosystems (OECD, 2021[59]).

In 2018, the Government of Jordan launched the electronic platform "Haggak Tiraf" (“You have the right to know”) to combat misinformation. The platform, managed by a team in the Ministry of State for Media Affairs under the Prime Minister Office, monitors and verifies information to provide transparent, accurate and quick information (OECD, 2021[27]). In Morocco, the local organisation Tahaqaq and UNDP launched an Accelerator Lab to mobilise the collective intelligence of internet users and technology to fight fake news online. This pilot project uses an extension on web browsers that allows people to report web pages containing lies, manipulation, harassment, or hate speech and hence leverages crowdsourcing and the collective intelligence of citizens (UNDP Morocco, 2021[60]). Reported content is then assessed by a small group of journalists and media professionals. The initiative also includes training on fake news and fact-checking techniques for university students. At the same time, measures to counter misinformation, hate speech and libel online must be defined in a clear and transparent manner to avoid any form of abuse.

Building on these steps, future efforts could focus on consulting and engaging young people from different backgrounds more regularly with the support of digital tools. A range of traditional and digital forms of communication such as online platforms and social media can be leveraged depending on the objective of public communication. Such efforts require policy makers to tailor their messages and delivery modes to the target audience, on the basis of research into the motivations, fears and barriers faced by young people. The OECD Communication Guide on Engaging Young People in Open Government also highlights that public communication targeting young people should take place as early as possible, present clear and detailed reasons, the scope of interaction and its expected outcomes (OECD, 2018[61]).

Findings from the OECD Youth Governance Surveys for MENA administrations suggest that all responding ministries in charge of youth affairs have invited young people to the identification of policy and service needs. Most responding MENA administrations reported that, besides individuals, consultations include education institutions (e.g. schools and universities, training institutes), non-organised young people and youth workers. Some responding MENA administrations also reported taking specific steps to engage young people in vulnerable circumstances, including young people not in education, employment or training and youth with disabilities. The public entities in charge of youth affairs in Qatar and the Palestinian Authority reported to involve young people from minorities, orphans, young people below the poverty line and young refugees. However, further research would be needed to capture how systematic, inclusive and participatory consultation and engagement practices targeting young people are across the lead entities as well as other line ministries and sub-national authorities.

Evidence from across OECD governments and MENA administrations demonstrates that obstacles limit the participation of young people in the policy cycle. Among OECD countries, while 93% of entities in charge of youth affairs informed and consulted young people in 2019-20, only 50% engaged them throughout the policy cycle according to their own reports (OECD, 2020[7]). The main challenges identified by responding MENA ministries in charge of youth affairs vary considerably. For instance, while the lack of financial and human resources appears to be the main challenge in Jordan, Lebanon and Mauritania, Tunisia and Qatar refer to the lack of capacities of youth stakeholders to participate and the lack of requirements for public officials to involve young people in these processes. A common challenge identified by the survey respondents is the absence of specific requirements for public officials as well as the lack of interest among youth stakeholders and awareness of the value added among public officials.

Similar to challenges faced across OECD countries, in most of the MENA region, young people are also not systematically informed about the outcome of their participation, with very few mechanisms to “close the feedback loop”. Special attention should also be paid to engaging marginalised young people, for instance by organising consultations in different geographical areas and by ensuring that young people can joint these events (e.g. by reimbursing travel expenses).

Consulting and engaging young people in decision-making is particularly important when governments take decisions that affect the long-term social and economic development of countries, such as in mitigating the COVID-19 crisis. In this context, a number of OECD countries has conducted public consultations with young people and youth organisations to inform their response and recovery efforts (see Box 4.3).

Public authorities can take proactive steps to ensure the participation of young people in different citizen participation formats such as public hearings, public consultations, surveys, or town hall meetings. As discussed in Chapter 3, participatory budgeting is one example through which young people can be involved in policy making and service delivery, by allocating public resources to (youth-led) projects and initiatives, thereby increasing their civic engagement and ownership and the transparency and accountability of a process that may otherwise be perceived as technical exercise (OECD, 2020[7]).

For instance, Article 137 of the Tunisian constitution stipulates that local communities, within the framework of the approved budget, have the freedom of allocating their resources according to the rules of good governance. La Marsa, a community of 110,000 residents, was the first municipality in Tunisia to institute a participatory budgeting programme, with a focus on public lighting (OECD, 2020[62]). In Jordan, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs has implemented participatory budgeting programmes in a pilot with three municipalities, with reportedly satisfying results (OECD, 2021[27]). Moreover, a number of municipalities organise meetings open to the public on their annual budget, in order to explain the main items and choices made, and to collect ideas on projects that shall be funded (OECD, 2021[37]). According to data from 2016, more than 5,900 citizens took part in the participatory budget forums and 270 ideas for citizen projects resulting from these forums were put to the vote, for TND 9 million (around USD 2.9 million as of May 2022) (OECD, 2021[37]). However, efforts to ensure the participation of young people in such processes remain limited and are rarely institutionalised.

Youth organisations can also play a central role in strengthening the participation of young people in decision making. However, to fulfil this role, youth organisations need to be equipped with the necessary resources. For instance, 81% of entities in charge of youth affairs in 33 OECD countries provide funding to youth organisations directly, through local authorities or through national youth councils and 48% of them provide educational and technical assistance to build up youth organisations’ administrative capacities (OECD, 2020[7]).

Similarly, OECD survey results demonstrate that all responding ministries in charge of youth affairs in the MENA region (10/10) provide some form of support to youth organisations (see Figure 4.8). The majority of the surveyed MENA administrations report providing promotion of activities (8/10) and organisational or technical support (7/10) to youth organisations. More than half of the surveyed MENA administrations (6/10) report providing financial support to youth organisations. For instance, in Morocco, around 15% of the general budget of the Ministry of Youth was dedicated to the support of youth organisations in 2018 (OECD, 2021[56]). In Tunisia, the legal status of civil society associations in general was modified in 2011. The new law on associations highlights that “the State must ensure the necessary allocation of budget for the support of the activities of associations” (Article 36). The procedures for associations to obtain public funding were determined in a separate decree in 2013 (OECD, 2021[37]). Half of the surveyed MENA administrations (5/10) report providing educational support or trainings to youth organisations.

In partnership with governments, well-funded youth organisations that are independent from political considerations and enjoy adequate capacities and access to decision-making can bring the perspectives of young people living in different circumstances into the decision-making process. The EU Youth Dialogue is one of the main instruments across countries of the European Union to engage young people and youth organisations in matters affecting their lives (see Box 4.4).

Governments can also engage young people through youth councils at the national level (as in 78% of OECD countries) and subnational level (as in 88% of OECD countries) (OECD, 2020[7]). National youth councils (NYCs) can bring in diverse perspectives of young people from different backgrounds through their networks of youth member organisations. NYCs can help unite local and regional youth organisations in advocating for youth-related issues and can provide opportunities for capacity building for their member youth organisations. A majority of councils also act as bridge between local and regional youth organisations from their countries and those from abroad, consequently providing support in developing international cooperation.

As of March 2022, available evidence from the surveyed MENA administrations suggest that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have an operational national youth council in place. Morocco and Tunisia are in the process of establishing a youth council at national level (Figure 4.9). For instance, in Morocco, although not operational yet, the Advisory Council for Youth and Community Action (Conseil consulatif de la jeunesse et de l’action associative, CCJAA) is expected to be consulted on draft legislation regarding any economic, social and cultural subject of direct interest to young people. Its mission will also include “the generalisation of the participation of young people in Morocco's social, economic, cultural and political development, as well as support to help young people to integrate into community life” (Kingdom of Morocco, 2018[63]). With the support of the OECD, the Tunisian Ministry in charge of youth affairs is currently working with 24 young representatives from local civil society to create a youth advisory mechanism in order to better engage young people to its policy-making process and promote a more youth-responsive implementation of its programmes on sports, physical education, youth, digitalisation and communication. In Mauritania, although there is not a national youth council in place, there are reported ongoing government efforts to create a youth advisory council attached to the presidency to propose solutions to the issues facing young people.

When set up based on an inclusive approach, youth councils can help address the lack of coordination among non-governmental youth stakeholders and help mainstream young people’s voices in policy making. For instance, in the Netherlands, the government recognises the Dutch Youth Council as the main national partner on youth affairs in the country, involving it through thematic working groups. In Estonia, the National Youth Council participated in the elaboration of the country’s long-term development strategy, Estonia 2035 (OECD, 2020[7]). In some OECD countries, such as Finland, Luxembourg and Slovenia, youth laws also feature provisions on the status and functions of the National Youth Council, including membership conditions, responsibilities, among others (OECD, 2020[7]).

The United Arab Emirates has established youth councils at different levels, including the Emirates Youth Council, local youth councils, ministerial youth councils, corporate youth councils, and the global youth councils (Box 4.5).

Youth councils at the local level can also play a major role in enabling young people to shape the decisions that affect them. Available evidence from the surveyed MENA administrations suggest that youth councils at the subnational level exist in Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, the Palestinian Authority and the United Arab Emirates. The nature and responsibilities of these local youth councils varies: some were established by local authorities, others by NGOs or by international organisations in collaboration with the public administration.

The Palestinian Authority has established local youth councils, which gather young people aged 15-22, who are elected by peers. These councils mirror the positions and structure of local municipal councils, and have benefited from over 300 hours of training in different areas (McNulty Foundation, n.d.[64]). They are explicitly non-partisan and are formed to consult and represent the interests of young people in their communities (McNulty Foundation, n.d.[64]). They fall under the responsibility of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports, from which they receive financial support. In Tunisia, local youth councils organised in youth houses have been piloted in five governorates. Although not linked to municipal councils, the pilot local youth councils provide an opportunity for a representative community of young people to play an important role in shaping the decisions that affect them. In Jordan, the Ministry of Youth has made efforts to establish a “Youth Shadow Government” and a “Youth Shadow Parliament”, however, an operational national youth council does not exist (OECD, 2021[27]).

In a number of OECD countries, besides youth councils and youth advisory councils, youth parliaments have been created at the national and subnational level to engage young people (see Box 4.6).

As of March 2022, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia were members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) (OGP, 2022[68]) and regularly elaborate national action plans as part of their membership. Since its founding in 2011, the OGP has grown to 78 countries, including 30 OECD countries, and 76 local jurisdictions that work alongside civil society to promote more open, transparent and accountable policymaking. An increasing number of countries use their OGP National Action Plans as a platform to elevate youth-specific commitments to government-wide and international attention. For instance, Spain’s 2017-2019 Open Government Action Plan included a commitment for the Spanish Youth Institute INJUVE to promote the participation of young people in democratic life and in the elaboration of youth policies.

National action plans to advance the open government agenda remain a largely untapped opportunity to engage young people in policy making across the MENA region. In 2012, Jordan was the first Arab country to join the OGP and, by 2021, it adopted its fifth National Action Plan for 2021-25, which acknowledges that youth institutions shall be included in the national dialogue and includes measures related to Jordan’s national youth strategy. Tunisia joined the OGP in 2014 and its third Action Plan for 2018-20 included a commitment to encourage the participation of young people in public policy discussion and development. It built on the second action plan, which aimed to establish local youth councils in partnership with civil society organisations and set up an online platform for young people to have their say and to report potential problems in the delivery of public services (OECD, 2021[56]). Thus, with the support of the World Bank, the Ministry in charge of youth affairs and the Ministry of Public Service supervised the creation of five pilot local youth councils in the municipalities of Kasserine, Ben Guerdane, Le Kef, Testour and Ibn Khaldoun. As the pilot phase was positively received, a next phase is planned under the new action plan for the OGP (OECD, 2021[37]).

Some governments have also used the elaboration of these plans to consult and engage civil society. For instance, Morocco initiated a co-creation process for the period 2021-2023, which presents an opportunity for young people and youth associations to make their voices heard through thematic workshops and a co-creation platform that is open to the public (OECD, 2021[56]).

In the last decade, governments have also adopted innovative citizen participation processes, such as representative deliberative processes. Representative deliberative process are processes in which a broadly representative body of people weighs evidence, deliberates to find common ground, and develops detailed recommendations on policy issues for public authorities (OECD, 2021[69]). Common examples of one-off processes are citizens’ assemblies, juries, and panels. To do so, a representative group of individuals are brought more directly in the resolution of local, national and global issues. For instance, in the Jordanian municipality of Deir Alla, the decision of where to build a school was prepared in collaboration with a voluntary committee, which featured representatives from the local community (OECD, 2017[70]).

Volunteering is a powerful tool for combatting social exclusion, promoting the development of young people, consolidating their trust and co-operation, cultivating their civic sense and building societal resilience (OECD, 2020[7]). In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, youth organisations, youth workers and young volunteers have stepped in, supporting the most vulnerable people and promoting societal resilience (OECD, 2020[72]). Today, about one million adolescents and young people in the MENA region are involved in volunteering programmes. Yet, only 20% of young people aged 18-29 across the MENA region reported volunteering with a local group or organisation in 2018 (Figure 4.10) (Arab Barometer, 2018[26]). These findings are consistent with results in OECD countries, where 22% of people aged 15-29 reporting having done so across 24 OECD countries in 2019 (OECD, 2021[27]).

Acknowledging that youth volunteering can address the root causes of marginalisation and foster social cohesion, 64% of OECD countries for which data is available deliver or finance specific national programs to promote youth volunteering (OECD, 2020[7]). Similarly, all MENA administrations that participated in the OECD Youth Governance Survey reported running programmes or activities for young people to volunteer or engage in civic life.

For instance, some administrations set up youth camps, such as the Camps for Youth in Lebanon and Al Hussein Youth Camps in Jordan, which include training activities and volunteer work. The Palestinian Authority developed a volunteering program for olive picking, where young participants carry out volunteer work with the aim of assisting farmers. In Morocco, the former Ministry of Youth and Sport developed in 2013 the national programme "Volunteering and civic education among young people", which aims to provide a social framework that promotes the values of volunteering among young people and their engagement in local life. In Mauritania, the “Watanouna” project, a voluntary civil service for young people, launched in 2020 to stimulate youth civic engagement. An expansion of the “Watanouna” project is planned in the draft National Youth Strategy 2020-2024 (Stratégie Nationale de la Jeunesse 2020-2024). In this context, and in partnership with UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Employment, Youth and Sports, 1,000 volunteers from the “Watanouna” project were trained and contributed to community awareness campaigns at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis (Ministry of Employement and Vocational Training of Mauritania, 2020[73]).

Youth volunteering can be hampered by a number of factors including lack of opportunities, resources and awareness and limited co-ordination across stakeholders. Difficulties related to logistics or personal costs can also represent a barrier for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. These challenges remain common also among OECD countries (OECD, 2020[7]). Governments have attempted to regulate the status of volunteers and enable youth organisations to receive grants from the government to support voluntary programs and activities. For example, Estonia and Australia, among others, developed a national strategy on youth volunteering to support, encourage and officially recognise volunteering in society. In other cases, governments include strategic objectives on youth volunteering within their National Youth Strategy. In Jordan, one of the guiding elements of the National Youth Strategy 2019-2025 is the encouragement and promotion of voluntary work, among others by running 24 volunteer initiatives per year for local community service and the school environment and by establishing a Bank of Volunteers in Jordan (OECD, 2021[27]). In the United Arab Emirates, the government of Abu Dhabi has a volunteering strategy in place to create an efficient and effective environment for volunteering (Department of Community Development, 2020[74]). The policy encourages professional and consistent standards for volunteering and aims to support and recognise the efforts of volunteers and their organisations. The United Arab Emirates has also established a dedicated website14 to share volunteering opportunities for young people online.

Effective co-ordination across stakeholders of the volunteering sector is essential for the implementation of national youth volunteering programmes and initiatives. In Jordan, a Higher Committee for Volunteer Work, established in 2021, aims to institutionalise, organise, and frame voluntary work in Jordan, ensuring a safe enabling environment in partnership between public and private stakeholders and promoting volunteering especially among young people (OECD, 2021[27]). The Tunisian government's support to youth organisations to promote associative action remains limited. Data collected during the preparation of this report show that the ministry in charge of youth affairs provides financial, technical, organisational, and training support to youth associations and organisations, in addition to promoting their activities. However, for the year 2019, the Tunisian Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports allocated only 0.7% of its total budget to volunteering (OECD, 2021[37]). Increasing the share for promoting volunteerism in the budget of the ministry in charge of youth affairs would help youth organisations to fully assume their role as a forum for youth learning and engagement (OECD, 2021[37]).

While ensuring adequate, larger resources for youth volunteering remains crucial, there is a risk that this might come at the expenses of other programmes or priorities within the entities in charge of youth affairs. At the same time, OECD analysis finds a positive and precise relationship between having a national programme for youth volunteering and young people volunteering more compared to the total population (OECD, 2020[7]). Box 4.8 presents innovative cases of national programs to promote youth volunteering in the context of the COVID-19 recovery in France and Italy.

Youth houses or youth centres (maisons de jeunes) provide yet another institutional framework for young people to develop active citizenship and participate in public and political life.

In Morocco, a network of around 510 youth houses exists to support the capacities of registered youth organisations and encourage the social inclusion and participation of young people in local sport, cultural and leisure activities (OECD, 2021[56]). In Jordan, the Ministry of Youth oversees the infrastructure and work of 190 youth centres (106 for young men and 84 for young women) and 355 youth clubs (OECD, 2021[27]). However, OECD interviews also suggest that youth in remote rural areas often have more difficulty accessing youth centres. For example, in Jordan a quarter of spending on "youth centres and youth houses" was invested in Amman, while significantly less than 1% was allocated to the governorates of Al-Balqa (home to 5% of the total population) and Tafileh (home to 1% of the total population) (OECD, 2021[27]). Following the revolution in 2011, the Tunisian government passed Decree 119 of 2011 that decentralised control of youth houses, and provided for more democratic management systems and more financial autonomy, which paved the way for more effectiveness in catering to local community needs and preferences (OECD, 2021[37]; République Tunisienne, 2011[75]). There are currently over 350 youth houses in Tunisia, managed by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and municipalities. In the United Arab Emirates, the government has supported the reconversion of older youth centres into Youth Hubs, multi-function centres for young entrepreneurs and artists to connect, exchange and work together. Starting with a pilot centre in Dubai, youth hubs were created in each emirate in collaboration with the local youth councils, which were consulted on the needs and expectations of local young people for these hubs. The Youth Hubs are financed by the ministry in charge of youth affairs, as well as by local authorities.

Overall, across the MENA region, youth centres need to be equipped with adequate human and financial capacities to provide services and activities in line with young people’s expectations and efforts should be made to address unequal distribution on the territory. Furthermore, public administrations can take proactive steps in involving young people in the co-design of the activities and programmes ran by the youth centres, to ensure they meet young people’s needs and expectations.

This chapter discussed the different opportunities young people have to engage in public and political life in the MENA region and the challenges they face in practice. Young people increasingly participate in public and political life through digital technologies and volunteering programs. However, their engagement is limited through institutionalised channels they have low trust in.

In this context, promoting an enabling environment, integrating the perspectives of young people in open government efforts, and creating formal institutions and mechanisms at all levels to involve young people in the policy and service cycle can help address some of the barriers identified.

To promote the participation and representation of young people and youth stakeholders in public life, in particular of young people from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups, public administrations could consider:

  • recognising and safeguarding youth rights and ensuring that young people are aware of them and exercise them, among others by building legal literacy, promoting civic and citizenship literacy and protecting civic space for young people;

  • delivering relevant, clear and accessible public communications targeted to young people, based on active listening and understanding of their concerns and interests, including through digital channels;

  • reviewing, where appropriate, voter registration rules and minimum age requirements for the participation in public and political life;

  • increasing age diversity in legislative and executive bodies, through regulatory or voluntary measures, such as youth quotas in legislative and/or executive bodies and through voluntary targets in political party lists as appropriate;  

  • addressing ageism and stereotypes against young people in public and political life by running or supporting awareness-raising programmes;

  • engaging youth stakeholders in all stages of the policy-making cycle on all policy areas that are relevant for young people (including global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss and digital technology policy) both in-person and digitally, by creating or strengthening institutions such as youth advisory bodies, sharing information, conducting consultations and engaging youth councils at national and sub-national levels with methods tailored to their availability, needs and interests; and

  • encouraging civic engagement and participation among young people, including by promoting meaningful volunteer service and youth work through laws, strategies and programmes, at the appropriate level(s) of administration and adequate resources.


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← 1. Survey responses were collected across Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.

← 2. Survey responses were collected across Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

← 3. Survey responses were collected across Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

← 4. Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen have ratified the ICCPR.

← 5. Survey responses were collected across Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen.

← 6. Survey responses were collected across Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

← 7. The Centre for Law and Democracy is a non-profit corporation that undertakes research, outreach activities and technical assistance to governments to advance civil society and human rights.

← 8. https://www.rti-rating.org/

← 9. According to the 2011 OECD report “How's Life? Measuring Well-Being”, “civic education focuses on people’s knowledge and understanding of formal institutions and the processes of civic life (such as voting in elections), while citizenship education focuses on knowledge and understanding of opportunities for participation and engagement in both civics and civil society (e.g. ethical consumption), which are important for democracies.”

← 10. http://www.nuorisovaalit.fi/

← 11. Following the 2021 general election in Qatar, the legislative body (The Consultative Assembly) has 45 seats, 15 of which are appointed and 30 of which are elected.

← 12. In Saudi Arabia, the legislative body (The Consultative Assembly) has 150 seats, all of which are appointed.

← 13. In the United Arab Emirates, the legislative body (The Federal National Council) has 40 seats, 20 of which are appointed and 20 of which are elected.

← 14. https://volunteers.ae/

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