Representatives of NGOs working in the youth sector and experts called for the need to hold local and legislative elections, enable youth to participate in decision-making, influence national policies, and enhance their participation in unions and municipal councils, at the level of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and various political and partisan levels.
They stressed the need to unite efforts between civil society and human rights organizations by involving young people in the preparation of national plans and general strategies to ensure that young people obtain their political, economic, and social rights.
This came during a workshop organized by the youth sector of PNGOs Network in Gaza City entitled "Ways to enhance the role of youth in facing the economic, psychosocial reality" within the project "Strengthening Democracy and Building the Capacity of NGOs" in partnership with Norwegian People's Aid (NPA).
In his opening speech, Yassin Abu Odeh, Youth Sector Coordinator at PNGOs Network, stressed the importance of promoting the rights and aspirations of young people in their societies politically, socially, economically, and culturally in accordance with the United Nations resolution in its fifty-fourth session on "Policies and Programs Related to Youth".
Abu Odeh added that the increasing catastrophic challenges in the Palestinian reality, especially the increase in the frequency of violations of the principles of international human rights law, and its continued commission of crimes against Palestinians, especially youth, have led to depriving young people of their basic rights such as the right to housing, the right to work, the right to health and education. This has resulted in a decline in economic growth and reduced political participation rates for youth, and weakened the ability of young people to adapt and cope with shocks.
For his part, Amjad Shawa, Director of PNGO Network, pointed out that young people suffer from frustration and despair in light of the complex political and difficult economic reality that Palestinian society is experiencing as a result of the occupation, political division, lack of vision and national project, and the marginalization of the role of youth in political participation despite their possession of sufficient capabilities and qualifications.
Al Shawa affirmed that PNGO Network has adopted youth issues through the implementation of many advocacy campaigns that have called for and exerted pressure to achieve active political participation of youth. He emphasized the necessity to move from frustration and despair to the state of construction and productivity, adopting the vision and the national project, working to motivate young people, emphasizing the importance of their role in society and involving them in political, social and economic issues.
In her speech, Wafaa Abu Zeid from Tawasol Society Forum explained the importance of the role and political participation of young people and the need to support them economically and provide them with a supportive social environment, noting that there are many programs and projects implemented by NGOs to support and enhance the role of youth in various fields. This includes projects that work to establish youth councils in municipalities, which contribute to enhancing the ability of young people to participate in local and legislative elections in the future and even in political parties.
For his part, Mohammed Abu Zuaiter, Deputy Executive Director of the Palestine Employment Fund, pointed out that the labor market in Palestine faces many challenges, including high unemployment rates, especially among youth, limited job opportunities, and disparities in skills and education, and to address these issues effectively, it is necessary to conduct studies regularly to diagnose and evaluate the reality of the labor market.
Abu Zuaiter highlighted some statistics that showed the unemployment rate among youth (19-29) years, graduates with an intermediate diploma and above reached about 46%, 29% in the West Bank compared to 68% in the Gaza Strip, and the unemployment rate among labor force participants (15 years and above) was about 25% in the first quarter of 2023, where this rate reached 46% in the Gaza Strip compared to 14%. in the West Bank, according to statistics from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).
Hossam Shehadeh, director of the Cultural Centre at the Association for Culture and Free Thought, stressed that there are many challenges to the political participation of young people, the most important of which are the political division, the difficulty of unifying laws, and the complexities in the political process as a result of the accumulation of more than 15 years of political, legislative and governmental division.
Shehadeh pointed out that the cultural and political identity of young people is missing, there is an absence of awareness of the importance of effective political engagement and its repercussions on social life. There is a lack of awareness of social justice and an absence of a cultural role in shaping social and political awareness toward addressing problems and laws and media in addition to the absence of cultural formations that build an identity and strategy for critical thinking in the economic and social reality. This affects the formulations of strategies to solve problems, the safe and proper transfer of power, and strengthening the resilience of society.
Jihad Hijazi from the Cultural Centre of the Culture and Free Thought Association reviewed a fact sheet prepared by the Centre on "Youth Political Participation at the Level of syndicates and Municipalities", and stated that only two municipalities out of 15 presidents are under 35 years old, and two municipalities out of 15 municipalities whose heads are between 40 and 46 years old. The number of municipal council members in 14 municipalities is 136 municipal council members, of whom only 25 are less than 35 years old, and the number of young people in leadership positions is around 23 out of 187 in 11 municipalities (8.1%).
Hegazy also pointed to the results of an opinion poll during the year 2022, that about 69.9% of young people believe that the political division reflected the ability of municipalities to involve youth participation in their decisions, and about 64% of young people believe that there is no societal culture about the importance of raising young people to participate in municipal and local work and decision-making, and 83% of young people believe that young people need more community support to enhance confidence in their role in the local community and develop their capabilities in municipal work.
For his part, Dr. Sami Oweidah, Director of the Gaza Community Centre at the Gaza Mental Health Program, pointed out the absence of accurate concepts about mental health, the reality in the Gaza Strip as a result of the complex political, economic, and social conditions and the occupation's approach to impoverishing the society, led to a state of depletion of the psychological situation of the various segments of society from the population, whether children, women or youth.
Oweidah also explained that most of the population in the Gaza Strip suffers from various psychological pressures, with depression being a prevalent mental disorder affecting a wide segment of young men and women. The pressures explained on youth may lead to catastrophic results, including suicide and drug abuse, internet addiction, waste of time and effort, and a high rate of anxiety among young people who lose their enthusiasm, activity, and ability to participate actively in society, stressing the need to work hard to reduce this deterioration through the adoption of plans and programs that improve the psychological situation of youth and the Palestinian society as a whole.
At the end of the workshop, the participants stressed the importance of developing national plans and inclusive programs for youth, activating the role of youth in civil organizations, youth frameworks, local, municipal, and even legislative bodies, and working to support youth initiatives and encourage them to adopt self-employment, entrepreneurship and financing small projects, as these endeavors have a great impact on achieving their ambitions.
Furthermore, they called for effective steps from various civil society organizations, government institutions, legislative bodies, and unions to empower youth in accessing their various rights. They also urged the creation of programs aimed at developing their skills and capacities, implementing projects that offer facilitation and financial support to enable youth to enhance their small-scale projects, encouraging investment in entrepreneurial projects, and launching advocacy campaigns to pressure decision-makers to end division, achieve national reconciliation, unify legislations and laws.