International Day of Democracy 2019 – Participation, inclusion, equal treatment

Sunday, 15 September 2019 marks the International Day of Democracy around the world. This 2019 edition focuses on participation – an occasion to take a closer look at young people and democratic participation in the digital age.

In 2007, the Inter-Parliamentary Union adopted the Universal Declaration on Democracy in Cairo. Since then, the International Day of Democracy is observed every 15 September to promote and uphold the principles of democracy, and review its state in the world, since, as the United Nations put it, "democracy is as much a process as a goal, and only with the full participation of and support by the international community, national governing bodies, civil society and individuals, can the ideal of democracy be made into a reality to be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere".

The theme of the 2019 edition is participation. Indeed, "true democracy is a two-way street, built on constant dialogue between civil society and the political class". This follows from the 2018 theme, which was "Democracy under strain: solutions for a changing world". Indeed, the democratic process seems to erode in many places around the world: there is a growing lack of trust in this process; more and more citizens lose interest or outwardly reject political parties; election turnout rates keep decreasing; and there is a growing feeling that power has been confiscated by an elite which is disconnected from the realities of daily life.

Therefore, this year's focus on participation, inclusion and equal treatment seems to be a solution to this phenomenon. As António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated, "as we mark Democracy Day, I urge all governments to respect the right to active, substantive and meaningful participation; and I salute all of you who strive tirelessly to make this happen".

When it comes to the impact of digital technologies on democracy, a quick look at the headlines will tell you that it is rather bad – from increased threats to election integrity to online disinformation. Yet, the digital age also offers unprecedented opportunities for participation to the greatest number of citizens around the world. The rise of civic tech is one striking example of the many possibilities offered for democratic participation in the digital world, as described by Pia Mancini in her TEDx Talk "How to upgrade democracy for the internet era" above.

A look back at what democracy means to Better Internet for Kids (BIK) Youth Ambassadors – European Youth Week 2019 campaign "Democracy and me" 
This has, in particular, implications for young people's civic engagement, as highlighted by CitizenLab. As such, civic tech has the potential to:

  • Inform and educate young people about societal issues in new, innovative and engaging ways, and on their preferred terrain – the digital world.
  • Give young people the means to make their voices heard much more easily, thanks to the mainstreaming of bottom-up initiatives.
  • Increase transparency, and therefore trust, thanks to open data, for example.
  • Reconcile young people and governments, by re-establishing a direct contact between both, and by offering means of participation which are less constraining and more flexible.

For further information about youth and democratic participation in the digital age, read this Better Internet for Kids (BIK) article on the topic and discover some educational resources from the Insafe network of European Safer Internet Centres (SICs) on democratic participation for young people.

For more information about the International Day of Democracy, visit the United Nations' website and follow the day on social media with the hashtag #DemocracyDay.

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