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Last year, in August 2018, we saw President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and the Dr Abdullah Abdullah formally welcome the National Youth Parliament of Afghanistan and publically acknowledge this positive step forward for democracy. What they couldn’t anticipate then is that less than a year later, 31 Youth Parliamentarians would strive to be formal nominees for the National Parliamentarian election.

Becoming a formal Parliament nominee is no easy feat, especially in a country such as Afghanistan where the prolonged conflict can make registering a risk and the elite family connections are sadly often the norm for securing political positions. Yet astonishingly, of these 31 ambitious young people, 14 were successful.

UNFPA caught up with two Youth Parliamentarians who - through dogged determination and engaging the skills learnt through the UNFPA supported Afghan Youth Parliament - are now official candidates for the National Parliamentary elections in October 2018.

One of these young nominees is Muqadasa Ahmadzai a candidate from Jalalabad. Ahmadzai a successful parliamentarian nominee shares the same optimism as by other young nominees for the future and wishes that by 2030 “There would be no fighting, people would have strong trust on the government, education and would believe in international relations [and] not power of the warlords.

Ahmadzai became the Deputy Speaker of Afghanistan’s Youth Parliament, all the more significant considering the social challenges young women face in Afghanistan often preventing or deterring them from pursuing education or political and high profile positions.

When asked about her motivations for nominating herself for the Parliamentary elections, Ahmadzai highlighted how being younger is an advantage - not a disadvantage - as many would assume: “Being a young woman I see the ability and skills in myself to elect myself and politically represent women and play a positive role….I want to prove this to the world that the Afghan women can also make positive changes in the country”

Having seen over a third of the youth Parliament position being occupied by young women, Ahmadzai feels strongly about the connection between educating Afghan girls and the wider development of Afghanistan; “I want to encourage women and girls into education, insist to their families to let them get education and support them with their social and economic challenges.” Having Parliamentarians who can advocate for the needs of youth is critical in a country as Afghanistan which has a young population with 63 per cent below 25 and 43 per cent below the age of 15. Only through strategically investing in youth, especially girls’ empowerment, education and political and social participation can Afghanistan gain sustainable development.

This is one reason that UNFPA supports the National Youth Parliament in Afghanistan, to bring about sustainable change through equipping youth with the skills needed to peacefully navigate through life.

The Afghan Youth Parliament brings 3 young people from each province (with an exception for very big provinces that can introduce 4 members) to discuss issues of governance and development, have their voices heard and participate in the decision making processes that have impact on their lives.

Furthermore, five members come from Nomadic populations, a minimum of three positions are allocated for people with disabilities and one for a young person from an ethnic minority.

Mohammad Qurishi is yet another nominee. Qurishi is an energetic young man who despite coming from one of the most insecure provinces in Afghanistan, Helmand Province, tirelessly strives to improve the lives of young people. Recognition for his efforts were seen when he was nominated to be the speaker of Afghanistan’s Youth Parliament (AYP). A prestigious position which has led him to have meetings with Ministers and Parliamentarians to ensure that the AYP recommendations were taken into consideration into policy development nationally.

When asked if the AYP helped him on his journey to keeping a nomination for the National Parliamentary elections Qurishi said:

The Youth Parliament gave me leadership skills, management skills, great understanding about Afghan Constitution, Code of Conduct of National Assembly, team work, good governance, peace and how to voluntarily serve for my people.

Qurishi has remained loyal to his AYP background and his mandate as a national candidate is to focus on engaging the leadership of Youth Commission in Lower House and supporting the National Youth Strategy implementation. As well as fighting for the needs of young people to be met, he is also committed to improving outcomes and advocating more generally for women, children, people with disabilities, returnees and IDPs in Afghanistan. 

In what sometimes seems like a complicated country for socio-geographical and political reasons, Qurishi sees a simple solution: “Education is the only path which can take us to our dreams to see a peaceful, prosperous, developed and economically powerful Afghanistan.”

Dr Noor Mohammad Murad, Head of the Youth and Adolescent Department in the UNFPA (who also oversees the AYP each year) expressed his delight at the 14 successful candidates reaching nomination phase.

This is an example of successful democracy in practice. UNFPA works tirelessly to invest in the young people of Afghanistan so they can be equipped with the skills needed to improve their lives and the lives of others. The AYP is just one of many programmes, UNFPA implements to make sure young people reach their potential, and that is exactly what these 14 young people are demonstrating”

The methodology used by the UNFPA with young people is often focused on long-term success through investing in youth now and the benefits can be seen in decades to come through improved attitudes and practices. This makes the success of these 14 Youth Parliamentarians all the more remarkable that they are eagerly pursuing their dreams now, having been empowered, in part by the AYP.

 ‘This is a tremendous win for the AYP, for UNFPA and for democracy in Afghanistan. I hope this inspires other young people to reach their potential and other countries to learn from the success of the AYP”, said Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi, Country Representative of the UNFPA in Afghanistan

The Youth Parliament will next convene in the coming months and the annual sessions will focus on issues around health, education, youth participation, employment and sports in 5 commissions comprised of 23 young people each. The discussions aim to identify challenges and opportunities and present recommended solutions and actions. The outcome is shared with concerned government ministries for consideration and action.

Stay posted for the updates from the forthcoming AYP sessions in the next Newsletter.