Young Women at the Forefront of Democracy in Palestine

Youth Shadow Local CouncilPHOTO: Democratically elected by their peers, the Youth Local Council will interface between the local government and the community in Beit Fajjar.

The votes were being counted and one could slice the tension in the air with a knife. The election monitors were writing the results of the vote count on a white board for all to see. Several hours had passed by and people were getting restless. The election monitor looked up from his desk and picked out the last ballot from the box, he looked over in the direction of one of contenders and smiled.

This was not a high-powered election for a local ministry post, but for those 350 youth gathered in the hall that day, it was as important. They were there to elect the 13 representatives that would be the interface between the local government and the community in Beit Fajjar. In other words, these 13 members would be the heart of the Youth Local Council, a youth group initiative supported by Global Communities and funded by USAID in the West Bank, representing the community of Beit Fajjar.

The room burst into applause as the winners were declared, including four women. One of them was Abla Taqatqa (pictured above - far right, bottom row), a young woman who had the highest votes amongst the four women candidates. She campaigned like a seasoned politician. “I am proud to represent my peers from my community in the Youth Local Council. This forum will provide me with an opportunity to represent and support young women like me in my community,” she said during her acceptance speech.

The councils were initiated in some communities and reinstituted in others as part of a good governance program initiated by Global Communities to encourage youth to engage in the democratic process in West Bank/Gaza. So far, the program has assisted in the formation of 4 Youth Local Councils, supporting over a 1,000 students across the West Bank with plans to support several more councils in the coming months. The program strives to provide Palestinian youth with the opportunity to increase their understanding of the functions of local governance through participation in public campaigns, debates, elections, leadership and skills training, and designing and implementing community projects such as tree planting, cultural events, or clean-up campaigns.

“The Council provided me with an opportunity to participate actively in the development of the youth in my community and I learned that each one of us has a responsibility towards improving our community life,” said Abla. Winning the election was a proud moment for Abla especially because she was one of four female candidates to win a council seat at the Youth Local Council across the West Bank.

Before the Global Communities program was implemented in Beit Fajjar, the young members of the community did not have a positive outlet for ways in which they could contribute to the democratic process in Palestine, learn new skills and meet other like-minded youth. Moreover, this gap was felt acutely by the young women in the community. The Councils provided a forum for youth especially girls to participate in public life. “The development of the Council allowed a safe space for girls and boys to work together and interact while managing and implementing community activities,” said Alba.

Abla participated in all activities, trainings, and youth-led initiatives in Beit Fajjar, proving to be a crucial link between the youth in the Council and the community. “Being part of the Council helped me learn and experience local governance issues and this helped increase my confidence as I was more knowledgeable,” she added.

At the same time along with the other youth in the Council, she took advantage of the self-improvement and skills trainings being offered as part of the Global Communities program. “I attended a media training provided by Global Communities through the Council. We live in an area that does not offer many opportunities due to the political situation. But through this training I learnt how to develop and write stories and essays,” she said. In fact, she was part of a school group that won an award for their essay on the theme of poverty.

Her activism and engagement with the community through the Youth Local Council opened other avenues for Abla to demonstrate and work on motivating other youth especially women to develop a sense of civic responsibility. A few months back, she was nominated to represent all the students of Beit Fajjar at the national-level ‘School Students Union’ and was elected the Deputy Chair.

To the Beit Fajjar community, Abla is a proud symbol of young Palestinian women, who strive to excel despite political, economic, and social constraints. The difference made by this program is felt at the individual level as it provides a space for young women and men to participate positively in rebuilding their sense of home and community.

About the Youth Local Council Program:
YLC is a voluntary body composed of Palestinian youth aged between 15-20 years old who are elected by their peers to mirror the positions of their local council and receive various trainings to strengthen their capacity and prepare them to function out of their own offices at the local councils themselves. The driving idea behind such YLCs is that a democratically elected youth voluntary body would be instrumental in voicing the youth needs and facilitating their participation at the local level and in bridging the gap between the local government institutions and this very important demographic sector. The YLCs do not represent political parties, but rather serve as elected representatives with a direct democratic mandate to give young people a voice and serve youth interests

YLC are one mechanism for longer –term youth participating in public life as they provide youth with a platform for representation and voicing youth concerns in their local governments, more channels for active civic and social participation in their communities, and the chance to learn first-hand about democratic good governance both in theory and actual practice. With the support and guidance of the partner civil society organizations their LGU counterparts, the youth councilors assume defined roles and implement activities of their choice and design.