Tokenism and Youth Involvement in Jamaica

The practice of giving youth a seat at the decision making table has become common in most developing countries, but having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice at the table, and that is tokenism. In simplest terms, tokenism is giving someone a platform to represent their group while limiting their voice to represent that group, and not having a voice has been the cry of many elected youth – from students councilors to guild presidents.

The Jamaican Education Act (1980) empowers the formation of student representative body in every public educational institution in Jamaica (the Education Act 1980, S. 32.1). This facilitated the creation of students council. These elected students, elected by students, should represents their peers and their issues. However, these students are treated as just title holder. Some not included in Board meeting nor invited to weigh in on disciplinary actions, and if they are then their words are numbered.

To some youth, the token is good enough. They get to go conferences, meet celebrated personalities and represent their group through media interviews. However limited their power, they are content, as it facilitates personal development, while the group they represent’s participation in the representative system  spirals to a piano.

Tokenism is not only seen among elected students, but also in marginalized groups. Such as those with disabilities.

Many entities (public and private) are aware of the importance of good public image. Consequently, they ensure to employ marginalized groups or use them as ambassadors for their campaigns. This is good! However, those who are in these positions complain of just being hired to do small tasks and not reach their fullest potential nor contribute not being able to contribute to the cause they are an ambassador for.

To better understand “glass window in youth democratic participation”, the Ladder of ParticImage result for the ladder of participationipation (taken from WhyDev). From the base to the top of the 8 level ladder are varying degrees of participation.

Tokenism is located on the non-participation level of the ladder. What is important is that youth who are elected to represent use this ladder to assess where on the ladder they are, regarding participation. Once a youth and his group realizes where they are in the participation process then they can suggest formulas to increase participation.

To conclude, it is important that equity be facilitated in both participation and execution process. Theoretically, more youth involvement will increase productivity and facilitates trust in public and private institutions. Also, early trust in public institutions can grow into greater levels of political participation of youth, especially in the voting process.

If you were impacted by the blog, then kindly let me know, and feel free to make suggestions on future blogs. Also, if you are out there and would like to be apart of my youth discussions on Monday’s (Roots FM), then feel free to contact me.

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