Although Egypt’s revolution was heavily catalyzed by youth, little has changed for them. In Egypt, we have a very youth population. This means that young people make up the biggest share in the country’s population; 40% of Egyptians are between ages 10 and 29. While many like to portray that as a burden for the country, it is actually a huge untapped resource. Investing in those young people can mean huge implications for the country’s overall development.
|A young #Jan25 protester. Photo by Jonathan Rashad|
These numbers do not capture the realities of what youth face in today’s Egypt. The picture is further complicated by very low youth participation in political and social affairs. In 2010, the rate of youth participation was only 3%. This has definitely changed after the revolution where more young people feel ownership of their own country. However, serious steps need to be taken to truly represent youth apart from the usual “window dressing” approach.
Youth issues should not be solely dealt with by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Youth issues require specific policies within all government departments. Moreover, our government usually dealt with youth as if they’re a security concern, instead of actually listening to their demands and working towards achieving them.
It’s time to include youth at all levels, in all issues related to them and to the society as a whole. It’s time make the saying “Nothing for us, without us” a reality. Youth should be free to organize themselves and be encouraged to volunteer and engage their local communities. This can be achieved by espousing values of volunteerism and community service from an early age.
Youth lives and experiences have greatly changed from their parents’. They live in a globalized world where access to information is much easier than before. Marriage age has obviously risen during the last couple of decades. However, youth are expected to remain virgins until they get married. This creates a huge gap between society expectations and actual sexual behavior.
|Photo from a youth workshop organized by Y PEER Network|
Meanwhile, adolescents and youth in Egypt remain in the dark when it comes to information about their bodies, about sex, or relationships. School curricula lack basic information and civil society efforts are restricted by the government and don’t reach the necessary numbers of youth.
An issue such as comprehensive sexuality education gets a lot of pushback in Egypt. Society usually protests informing young people about sexual health on the basis that it encourages youth to start having sex. Not only this claim is unfounded, but also it means that if youth actually start having sex they won’t know how to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
Because of lack of public debate around comprehensive sexuality education, it is usually perceived to be about how to have sex. Conversely, it’s about providing youth with information about their bodies, puberty, reproduction, contraception, rights and diversity. Moreover, it’s about promoting positive values and attitudes towards gender and human rights. It’s about empowering young people to assume responsibility for their health and lives.
This is particularly relevant to our context since we have a marked gender gap in access to education, employment and health services. Moreover, women suffer from different forms of gender based violence such as sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence, economic violence, in addition to harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation. Sex education can be a great tool to change deeply seated patriarchal values in our society.
We need to stop talking about if we should do and get the point of talking about how to do it. And there are many ways it could be done.
The new leadership in Egypt is entangled with huge challenges; however youth must be at the heart of their agenda. All those issues are related to each other in a way or another. Youth participation would affect young people’s future and maturation process. Sexuality education would lead to healthier, more responsible generations. Investing in youth is a priority that cannot be delayed or ignored any longer.
Now is the time for youth!
An earlier version of this post was posted here at the occasion of 10 Days of Activism Campaign. More about the campaign here.