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#YouthInAction – Young women’s political empowerment is a fundamental human right

Dr. Intifar Chowdhury is a youth researcher and Lecturer in Government at Flinders University, South Australia. She is passionate about writing to better the political representation of all young Australians in our democracy. Intifar completed her PhD in Political Science at the ANU School of Politics and International Relations. In July 2023, Intifar completed her PhD in political science at the Australian National University’s (ANU) School of Politics and International Relations. Her doctoral research tackled the important question of whether young people are turning away from democracy. It comprised a quantitative enquiry.

Intifar’s political commentary on youth politics has appeared in diverse media platforms, including in The Conversation, The Guardian, The Canberra Times, Al Jazeera English, Reuters, Australian Institute for International Affairs and ANU’s Policy Forum. Prior to this, Intifar obtained a double degree in Science (Biochemistry/Genetics) and International Relations (Honours) at the ANU. During her time as a student, Intifar has interned at the Commonwealth parliament, the Canberra Hospital and Wissenschaftszentrum für Sozialforschung in Berlin (WZB).She also won the 2020 CASS Dean’s Commendation for Excellence in Education, 2021 CASS Excellence in Tutoring and Demonstrating and 2021 Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Young women’s political empowerment is a fundamental human right

Globally, politics has largely been the domain of power for older, male, and affluent citizens. However, when the voices of young women are muffled and their concerns are marginalised in policy discussions that shape their future- it’s not just a denial of democratic representation, but a violation of fundamental human rights.

Recognising and safeguarding women’s political rights isn’t an isolated agenda—it’s an integral part of the broader commitment to universal human rights. 

Advocating for these rights, I believe, entails two critical aspects: first, making politics more welcoming for young women; and second, increasing their impact and interest in political engagement. 

The unwelcoming political landscape

Recent research outlined in PLAN International’s 2022 report sheds light on the myriad barriers young women face. The survey reveals that only 11% of women aged 15-24 were content with their leaders’ decisions on issues they cared about. While a whopping 97% believed political participation was vital, 20% had personally been discouraged from engaging in politics.

I broadly group the barriers to participation into two categories: socio-cultural and institutional. Societal norms and discriminatory beliefs, combined with institutional shortcomings, create an unwelcoming space. 

Ageism manifests as the outright dismissal of young women’s contributions and opinions because of their age. In many societies, politics is inappropriate for women. Although this is changing, progress is uneven. In some countries in the Middle East and Africa, for example, young women’s morality is questioned when they attend political meetings at night; they also face parental constraints on mobility that men don’t.

Institutional barriers present in parliaments and formal political spaces are not conducive to young women’s participation. Gendered institutions normalise violence and lack concrete institutional checks on gender-based discrimination.

The pervasive gender-based violence targeting female leaders and role models sends a chilling message, dissuading girls and women from leadership aspirations. Alarmingly, this trend extends to online spaces, where the absence of effective monitoring allows unchecked violence against women to persist, further exacerbating the challenges faced by women seeking to engage in public discourse.

Society’s gendered psyche, along with institutional discouragement, deters women from pursuing leadership positions, perpetuating the uncanny notion that they are less competent. 

This plays into the psyche of girls. In some Western democracies, girls are less interested than boys in formal political participation: girls are dissuaded from corridors of power, where it may count the most. Research endorsed by the World Bank shows that women are three times as likely to worry about gender discrimination and twice as likely to fear not being taken as seriously as their male counterparts.

Multi-faceted approach to achieving equal power

As outlined in the Menu, addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach. Decision-makers at all levels must create diverse, inclusive, and safe pathways for political participation, strengthen civic education, and facilitate girls’ inclusion in both local and national decision-making processes. 

Making political spaces safe, inclusive, and encouraging for female leaders is pivotal. Research in Australia reveals that role models enhance descriptive representation of women and consequently can close the gender gap in political knowledge. Notably, between 2001 and 2007, the gender gap in knowledge remained steady. However, a significant decline occurred in 2010, coinciding with the election of Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, which resulted in women displaying greater media attentiveness. The trend subsequently returned to its previous trajectory in 2013 and 2016. 

By the way of descriptive representation, there is mixed evidence for the effectiveness of gender quotas. Beyond this measure, new research shows that political resources- such as better compensation, childcare and housekeeping funds, and more flexibility with online meetings may hold the secret to attracting and sustaining young women who juggle work and familial duties in political leadership positions.

Social media, a powerful tool for mobilising attention and accountability to women’s rights, has the potential to challenge discrimination and stereotypes. It is also a low-cost, safer and effective tool for amplifying their voice. Cases in Turkey and India remind us how social media can help to bridge the gap that often separates grassroots women’s activism from policy-making processes. 

Therefore, leveraging digital technologies in this online era is crucial. It can serve as the great equaliser in closing the gender gap in political participation. However, disparities in access, use, affordability, and knowledge persist especially in the developing world. Overcoming these hurdles require concerted efforts from all levels of government, media, and civil society. For example, all online spaces must adopt a zero-tolerance approach to violence, and provide funding to raise online literacy and online self-defense training to tackle gender discrimination and violence.

The advocacy for women’s political rights isn’t merely a campaign for gender equality; it’s a fundamental assertion of human rights. Therefore, this demands a comprehensive and urgent response, addressing cultural, institutional, and technological barriers to ensure the full and equal participation of young women in democracies worldwide. 

Success story

Commitment #30: Girls and boys as gender equality champions

Committing to ending all forms of discrimination against women, including concrete legislative, policy and programmatic interventions have been put in place to eliminate harmful traditional practices, such as child marriage.

Menu of Possible Commitments
Champions of Change

Read more about this story here

The promotion of gender equality and efforts to end all forms of discrimination against women starts with young people. Plan International’s Champions of Change is a community-wide initiative to change gender norms through youth engagement. Implemented in Sweden, the programme features an educational youth camp for participants aged 15-19 aiming to enhance their understanding and knowledge of their rights, global development issues, and gender equality. 

The initiative itself was youth-led and young people were key in drafting the funding application and planning the education camp. Interventions at the school-level are an innovative way to eliminate harmful cultural norms. Governments and civil society alike should gain inspiration from the impact of initiatives such as Champions of Change, to turn their gender equality commitments into concrete action.


These are only a handful of examples of the positive impact that civic education and voting access for young people can have on democracy. Join the YDC in calling for youth to be supported in voting this year by sharing the commitment that resonates with the issues in your community, and by showcasing your own success stories with the hashtag #YouthInAction.