The United Nations Youth envoy, Ahmad Alhendawi, has joined fellow youth leaders to launch globally the campaign to get young people elected into public office. The global launch happened on Tuesday November 22 in Geneva at the Palais des Nations and was attended by representatives of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and European Youth Forum.
According to the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth (OSGEY) “the Not Too Young To Run campaign will be run as an open source global campaign, designed to draw attention to the widespread age discrimination in running for public office. It will provide a platform with resources and content which may be utilized for nationally specific efforts.”
According to the campaign, 73 percent of countries worldwide have age-barriers to those who can run for elected office although they can vote for those same offices. Fifty-one percent of the world’s population is under 30 but only two percent of parliamentarians worldwide are under 30.
Ecuador, Finland, Norway and Sweden are the only countries that have more than 10 percent of their MPs under 30.
"If you're not too young to get married, to serve in the army, to vote, then you're not too young to run”, says Zeina Hilal of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The campaign, started in Nigeria by Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement, is calling for the removal of age barriers steeped in the constitution. The campaigners want the age limit of the president reduced to 30 and the House of Representatives, down to 25 years.
In Ghana, while the age limit to become a Member of Parliament is 21, the presidency is etched at 40.
Those who decide to run for office face numerous challenges. When 22 year old Francisca Oteng-Mensah was elected the NPP’s parliamentary candidate for Kwabre East Constituency, she was described by the head of Department of Political Science at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Dr Richard Amoako Baah as “too young” and inexperienced for the task.
Despite the numerous advantages to having younger leaders, including policies which reflect contemporary thinking and aspiration, there are significant barriers even if age limits are lowered.
Political party structures pivot on old friendships, election nomination forms are dear and society’s idea of the ‘wise age’ are going to need some significant challenging before concrete change will happen.