Alexander Titus, a Bachelor of Laws (Honours)/Politics, Philosophy and Economics student at The Australian National University (ANU), is an Australian delegate at the 2023 Group of Twenty (G20) Youth 20 (Y20) summit. Having recently returned from the pre-summit in India, Alexander reflects on the challenges, confusion and joys of youth advocacy in this blog post.
By Alexander Titus
Every year, Australia sends a delegation of young changemakers to attend the G20 Y20 conference. These meetings bring together youth from the G20 member countries to discuss issues that face young people.
It is a valuable forum for delegates to exchange ideas and advise G20 leaders on their youth policy via the ‘Y20 Communiqué’, a document of comprehensive and evidence-based policy measures.
This year, the Y20 will be hosted by India, and so far, it is shaping up to be a spectacular affair, with the final summit set to be held in Varanasi. At the pre-summit in May, delegates traversed the world to meet each other and officially begin negotiations.
There is no doubt that what we have experienced has been nothing short of spectacular. Upon arriving in India, we were treated to high-class hotels and a grand, public welcome. No expense was spared.
The beauty of the Himalayas was on full display, from the stark mountains to the vast sprawling lowlands. So too was the diversity of its people, which displayed a kind of richness and complexity that Australia should both envy and seek to emulate.
Our discussions seemed to suggest that youth engagement was a national priority of India and an essential aspect of India’s new vision for the future. A sentiment that I would cautiously say is being reflected at home with the announcement of a new youth engagement strategy.
Yet, despite all the positives of the experience, it became glaringly obvious just how far there is left to go. Our framework for youth policymaking, both in Australia and abroad, is outdated and rooted in paternalism.
The Y20, for example, lacks any real capacity to provide input on leaders’ decisions and unlike other working groups, such as the Business 20 (B20), it has no dedicated representation within the G20.
As a good friend of mine once said, “young people are so often paraded as the future, but they are rarely acknowledged as the present”. We are still in the habit of tokenising our young people’s contributions, which I hope to advocate against in the final Y20 summit.
The challenge remains on how we design inclusive processes that ensure that young people are involved in youth policy-making.
On this front, Australia is truly behind, and other regions like Africa, Europe and South Asia have made leaps and bounds with organisations like the UK Youth Parliament, the Pan-African Youth Union, and the systems of Panjayat Raj in India. While not all institutionalise youth in policy-making, they act as powerful youth advisory bodies that lobby for real change.
We also need to be mindful of the processes by which we choose youth to represent the opinions, aspirations and hopes of young people. Specific attention must be given to ensure that these bodies do not further perpetuate the biases prevalent throughout Australian society.
This is a problem that I have found to be particularly tricky because it requires us not only to be critical of systems but also of ourselves and our relationship with the world around us. The selection processes for these bodies often benefit privileged groups who have certain lived experiences such as being privately educated in urban areas with experiences valued by Anglo-Australia.
For our youth representative bodies to be truly representative, we must ask ourselves, what is a leader, who is seen to be a leader and who has access to opportunities deemed necessary to develop young leaders.
Find out more about the Y20 youth summit here.