By Hammad Siddiqui and Emad Sohail
The youth of Pakistan, despite a multitude of problems like unemployment, poverty,social taboos, drugs, and crime, have always been in the forefront of movements for political change — as we saw in yesterday’s #YouthChange Twitter chats.
Young people played a key role in the 2013 elections, for example. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan a significant proportion of this year’s electorate is made up of people under the age of 35. Nearly half of the 84 million registered voters — 48 per cent — are aged between 18 and 35, while 20 per cent, or nearly 17 million voters, are under the age of 26.
Social media is one of the reasons for such strong youth participation in this year’s election, despite the fact that Pakistanis of all ages were barred from accessing YouTube. The aggressive engagement of youth on social media not only influenced political parties and hardcore political journalists to join social media platforms, but also drove them to mold their political agenda in this year’s elections campaign because of the youth voice for change.
For example, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) election campaign was completely based on social media because of the sizable voting power of youth. PTI has been the trendsetter through their online presence on social media, which they used to disseminate information and engage supporters. PTI’s competitor, PML-N gave away thousands of free laptops to college students as an attempt to influence youth, providing them an access to technology and recognizing their voting power on social media.
During the elections, the youth of Pakistan used social media to expose several incidents of attempted election-rigging that took place in various polling booths across Pakistan. Additionally social media is increasingly used for fundraising for philanthropy, job searches, and educational purposes.
Some of the innovative new ways Pakistan’s youth are using the Internet to engage socially and politically include:
- Bolo Bhi – It is about advocacy, policy, and research in the areas of gender rights, government transparency, internet access, digital security and privacy.
- Twittistan – All about the latest news, reviews, stats, and trends on Twitter and what is the current Twitter trend in Pakistan.
- Bolo Pakistan – A campaign to speak up against the oppression of minorities.
- Pakistan Youth Alliance – Pakistan Youth Alliance came into being, when a couple of youngsters, sitting in a ‘hang-out’ sheesha-place in Islamabad, thought to live up to the change they wished to see in their country.
- Step up Pakistan – The blog of StepUP Pakistan working in helping the organization grow and meet its goals, keeping people informed about all the latest happenings and upcoming events. It covers various topics on student life along with providing information about the work of Step Up Pakistan and encouraging Pakistani Youth to express feelings about issues which they want to be changed.
- Pakistani Society – All about issues and problems of people in Pakistan
- Youth of Pakistan – An independent youth organization wants to bring change in Pakistan through awareness
In a country where access to information is limited and youth is not encouraged to take part in the debates and discussions, social media is certainly providing a space to the youth of Pakistan to discuss, debate, and highlight issues such as politics, the economy, and religion.
Hammad Siddiqui is Deputy Country Director for CIPE Pakistan. Emad Sohail is Program Officer for CIPE Pakistan.