Policy Advocacy - Being a part of change
As soon as any man says of the affairs of the State “What does it matter to me?” the State may be given up for lost.
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau
What is policy advocacy?
The word “advocacy” comes from the Latin ‘advocare’ and literally means ‘to call out for support’. In general terms, advocacy means speaking on behalf of others. Advocacy also plays an important role in raising the public’s consciousness about a particular issue. Policy advocacy is a little different from all the other forms of advocacy. It is solution based. In policy advocacy, we analyze the causes of a problem and develop policy-based solutions to address these in a manner that creates sustainable and enduring change.
Formal policy mechanisms, such as laws or government regulations, are a key part of policy advocacy as it involves organized initiatives that seek to change official policy or legislation, or the manner in which these regulations are applied. These initiatives typically try to establish new policies, improve existing policies or challenge the development of policies that create a difficulty or an injustice for specific groups in society, particularly more vulnerable or disadvantaged groups.
Policy is not just for politicians
The state and it’s institutions provide the basic framework and mechanisms for organising ideas, debating proposals and building consensus. Political parties, elected officials and bureaucrats play the central role in policy formulation and implementation. This however, does not ensure a political environment that truly opens up democratic spaces. The involvement of civil society organisations, community leaders and individual citizens in policy advocacy is also crucial as, without their engagement, various policy proposals are unlikely to be a part of debate and discussion. Civil society intervention can provide an essential input into policy proposals in terms of specific issue expertise and direct interaction with citizens. Political participation is a key pillar of active citizenship.
Why do we need youth representation in decision making?
Public policy deals with not just policy formulation and implementation but tries to solve problems that are inherently interlinked and constantly evolving as foreseen and unforeseen challenges arise. It tries to solve these problems by isolating causes, analysing evidence, conducting research, developing viable policy options and analyzing cost. However, unrealistic models of policy formulation fail to provide the support to turn desired practices into reality, and putting theory into practice falls into the hands of a few officials and bureaucrats. Thus, youth representation and participation in decision making is pivotal to bridge this gap. Young professionals with relevant skills and experience can be a creative force and a dynamic source of innovation in catalyzing important changes in political systems and power relations. Youth engagement in politics and governance can be both formal and informal. There is strong evidence that the participation of young people in formal, institutional political processes is relatively low when compared to older citizens across the globe. People under the age of 35 are rarely found in formal political leadership positions. This challenges the representativeness of the political system and leads to the disenfranchisement of young people.
Opportunities for youth to engage in decision-making processes depends largely on the political, socioeconomic, and cultural contexts. However, policy advocacy can be a great tool for young people to exercise their right to participate and be included in the democratic processes that affect them, and other sections of the society. In an enabling environment, young people and youth led organisations can be vital stakeholders in the achievement of internationally agreed development goals. Through policy advocacy, one can play a crucial role in initiating change.