Youth Leadership in Nepal: At the Intersection of Age, Gender Inequality and Social Exclusion

BY: Bindu Sharma - 03. August 2022

Nepal stands in a unique position to tap on youth energy for development because of existing policy mechanisms, the increasing trend of youth in politics and the demographic window of opportunity. Capitalizing on these strengths, uneven through, the country can make overall progress through positive youth development, engagement and leadership, and multiple development partners are joining in this mission. 

Youth related policy provisions such as Youth Vision 2025, Nepal Youth Policy, and National Development Plan significantly focus on youth mobilization, participation, and leadership. Similarly, the Local Government Operation Act also seeks to carry out youth-led sectoral works. The youth structures provisioned in these policy documents such as Nepal Youth Council and local youth club, and youth parliament also hold ample potential for bringing youth to the center of policy formulation and other development works in Nepal. However, there are some issues in these provisions themselves and in materializing these policies. Youth structures are not formed and activated in all places, no mechanisms exist to educate and aware youths of governance and public processes including policy formulation and local planning processes and there are no defined structures for state-youth collaboration. 

Breaking the history of youth being only the muscle force in politics, Nepal’s local level election result brought 14,442 youth (41%) into politics as elected representatives, encouraging for youth-led governance. This means these newly elected representatives add value to their governance in two ways; first, they are exemplary models for other youths to come into the system for systemic change and secondly, integrate youth agendas into mainstream politics/ governance which will be leveraged through policies, programs, and other mechanisms. Nepal is a window of opportunity phase due to the demographic dividend which gives the country a chance for socio-economic growth because of a higher ratio of the working population. However, this opportunity remains untapped, and many youths continue to leave the country in search of economic and other opportunities. 

The youth issues in Nepal are also the issues of exclusion and discrimination that filter who gets what in terms of opportunity, access and decision making. At the crossroad of diverse intersecting identities based on gender identity and sexual orientation, caste and ethnicity, poverty and geography, many youths do not get equal opportunity and access to growth, resources and decision making. This intersectionality forms the bases for multiple forms of discrimination and exclusion creating more than one barrier for youths. For instance, due to the gender roles, most young girls must carry on domestic workload, get into early marriage and parenthood, and their engagement in public life is halted. The youths from ethnic minorities are not able to equitably access education, ultimately limiting their informed choices and participation in decision-making. Similarly, youths with disability face challenges in accessing public services. 

The youth-related policies, though they prioritize the youth agenda, have overlooked the inclusion aspect within youth mobilization and leadership. There are multiple actors in the field working to bring youths to the center of socio-economic and political reform and development. Helvetas believes in promoting youth engagement and leadership to achieve its development goal of decent lives for all. For this, the high youth rate has been identified as an opportunity for the country’s development in its strategy and emphasis on youth in sectoral programs such as vocational skills, safer migration, and agriculture. Moreover, to overcome all sectoral issues, it encourages the engagement of young people in local government affairs strengthening federalization in Nepal. 

Under the same, Helvetas has implemented an action to promote youth engagement in local government processes in support of the European Union. It seeks to address the very gaps in youth engagement and leadership by working at 3 levels; creating inclusive spaces for meaningful dialogue between government and youths, capacity engagement of youths and supporting local government to develop institutional mechanisms to address intersectional exclusion and other issues. For meaningful dialogue between government and youths, youth structures such as the local level and Youth Sounding Board at the National level have been formed. While youth panels engage with local government, YSB engages at the national level, also contributing to the design of youth-related strategies of the EU. 

These newly formed structures contributing to the priority of the National youth vision through the Youth council to harmonize and mobilize youths at all local levels have been formed with a group of diverse youths from Karnali, Madhesh and Sudurpaschim provinces. These structures have ensured inclusion both in the number and in actions; there are 52% female, 12% Dalit youths, 8% youths with a disability, and 32% youths from Karnali province. Similarly, they carry out initiative efforts to create gender-inclusive and violence-free communities, i.e., they collaborate with local government on improving mechanisms for Gender-Based Violence. Youth Sounding Board aims to develop and strengthen itself as an inclusive space where youths from different walks of life come together to raise voices for their rights as well as contribute to setting the youth agenda in the country.