This article is part of a series highlighting the work of five inspiring and capacity-building initiatives the young civic activists are leading across Iraq to better their communities and foster significant change from the bottom up.
Enhancing Participation of Najaf Youth in Political and Electoral Processes
After attending three workshops hosted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) centered on advocacy planning, social media strategies, and outreach skills in 2022, civic activists Ohood Abduljawad, Hashim Salah, and Ahmed Kareem from the Najaf Governate have created an advocacy campaign entitled “Enhancing Youth Participation in the Political and Electoral Process.” Since the last Iraqi parliamentary elections illustrated a considerable lack of political interest, trust, and participation amongst youth. These three civic activists are taking action to transform the political scene and challenge negative stereotypes associated with young candidates ahead of the upcoming November 2023 provincial council elections.
Ohood Abuljaweed, a 30-year-old civic activist in Najaf, believes it is crucial for first-time voters to participate in elections for decision-making positions. With the help of 23 individuals from the Volunteering Division in the Directorate of Youth and Sports, Abduljaweed has launched the “Hope Makers” initiative in a local public school. The campaign created three inspirational murals depicting youth empowerment and participation within Najaf society. Through her activities, Abduljaweed has noticed an increase in youcth interest within the political process; however, local young Iraqis continue to express a lack of political awareness and inclusion within the political environment. Despite obstacles, Abduljaweed firmly believes that “empowering youth’s creativity gives them the motivation to participate in stronger positions, such as participating in electoral or political processes, because youths have the ability to interact with all sectors of society.”
empowering youth’s creativity gives them the motivation to participate in stronger positions, such as participating in electoral or political processes, because youths have the ability to interact with all sectors of society.Ohood Abuljaweed
Likewise, Hashim Salah, a 30-year-old activist, has been focusing on bridging the gap between Najaf youth and government officials. To build trust for the Iraqi government, Salah has conducted roundtable discussions with local decision-makers, independent parliament members, and current political parties to understand the nature of their campaigns and views on current political developments. The roundtable discussions provide Salah and participants a chance to contemplate what existing issues prevent young Iraqis from participating in political processes and how they can find sustainable solutions. Within each meeting, Salah and the local representatives highlight the importance of voter education campaigns to get more youth involved in the system and prepare them for voting in the upcoming elections. Salah believes it is imperative for Iraqi youth to recognize the impact that every vote can have on their community, as well as the rest of the nation.
Similiarly, Ahmed Kareem, a 33-year-old activist in Najaf, has made it his personal mission to ensure local political participation is inclusive and reflects the needs of every community member. As part of the initiative, “We Can Influence Change,” Kareem has created a table tennis tournament for 19 athletes with physical disabilities to come together and compete in a friendly environment while discussing Iraq’s political atmosphere. Utilizing facilitation and advocacy skills gained through the IRI trainings, Kareem has led conversations on how to increase the athletes’ political participation and inspire others to voice concerns or needs to the local decision-makers.
The young participants agreed that being involved in elections, community dialogues, and other political outlets are great ways to improve their communities and future prospects. However, the athletes have expressed difficulty in ensuring that those with physical disabilities are properly heard by politicians and local leaders. To combat this growing gap, Kareem will be inviting the athletes to join engagement activities with participating decision-makers, so they can have a safe space to express what services they need. Reflecting on his progress, Kareem believes “that now that he has a platform and gained trust of his community, it is his duty to raise the voice of the unheard, encouraging the most vulnerable to have better representation in the province and Iraqi government.”Top