Youth empowerment is an attitudinal, structural, and cultural process whereby young people gain the ability, authority, and agency to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of other people, including youth and adults.
Youth empowerment is often addressed as a gateway to intergenerational equity, civic engagement and democracy building. Many local, state, provincial, regional, national, and international government agencies and nonprofit community-based organizations provide programs centered on youth empowerment. Activities involved therein may focus on youth-led media, youth rights, youth councils, youth activism, youth involvement in community decision-making, and other methods.
Each major political party in the United States, including the Republicans, the Democrats, and the Green Party, as well as many major European, African, South American (Peru), and Australian political parties have statements supporting youth empowerment. Youth empowerment is also a central tenet of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which every country in the world (minus the U.S. and Somalia) has signed into law.
There are a variety of youth empowerment initiatives underway around the world.
Youth empowerment occurs in homes, at schools, through youth organizations, government policy-making and community organizing campaigns. Major structural activities where youth empowerment happens throughout society include community decision-making, organizational planning, and education reform.
Educational activities that cite youth empowerment as an aim include student-centered learning, popular education, and service learning. Free schools and youth-led media organizations often state their intention to empower youth, as well as youth voice, community youth development, and youth leadership programs. Youth empowerment is studied by a variety of scholars including Shawn Ginwright, Henry Giroux, Barry Checkoway, Mike Males and Marc A. Zimmerman. Their research is highlighted by advocacy from notable activists such as William Upski Wimsatt, Alex Koroknay-Palicz, Salome Chasnoff and Adam Fletcher.
Republic of Ireland
In 2002 Comhairle na nÓg was established in each local authority area as part of the National Children's strategy. Comhairle na nÓg is Irish for Youth Council. These councils are encouraged to include the participation of young people from all walks of life and to tackle local issues affecting young people. It is run by the local county or city councils under the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. It is a recognized political organisation by the Irish Government. An extension of Comhairle na nÓg is the Comhairle na nÓg National Executive. The National Executive has one "youth councillor" from every Comhairle na nÓg and deal with issues important to young people. These issues are nominated by young people themselves at an AGM every two years. The Comhairle na nÓg National Executive has the opportunity to express there views in a form of a researched report, ad-campaign, conferences, seminars and to put those views to policy makers.
The 53 member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations have all signed up to the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment (2007–2015). The Plan of Action underpins the work of the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP). On the Commonwealth definition, "Young people are empowered when they acknowledge that they have or can create choices in life, are aware of the implications of those choices, make an informed decision freely, take action based on that decision and accept responsibility for the consequences of those actions. Empowering young people means creating and supporting the enabling conditions under which young people can act on their own behalf, and on their own terms, rather than at the direction of others."
The Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment was developed by the Commonwealth Secretariat, working closely with Ministers of Youth and young people themselves. It encourages youth mainstreaming and contains thirteen action points for governments. The first of these is: “Develop and implement measures to promote the economic enfranchisement of young people” through a range of measures ranging from micro-credit and entrepreneurship education through to reviewing macro-economic planning and trade regimes and how they affect young people. Other action points address gender equality, HIV/AIDS, education, the environment, youth participation in decision-making, and democracy and human rights.
- Vavrus, J. & Fletcher, A. (2006). Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People. The Freechild Project.
- (1998) "Examining empowerment: A 'how-to' guide for youth development professionals" Journal of Extension, December 1998
- Sazama, J. & Young, K. (2006) 15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making, Boston: Youth On Board.