Creating spaces for dialogue and youth participation. Interview with Dr. Franziska Giffey

Dr.  Franziska  Giffey (SPD)  is  the  Federal  Minister  of  Family  Affairs,  Senior  Citizens, Women  and  Youth  in  Germany.  She  took  part  in  a  discussion  event  at  the  Schwarzkopf  Foundation  on  November  13,  2018 titled,  “Youth  participation  in  politics  –  is my voice heard?”

Mrs.  Giffey,  you  are  the  Federal  Minister  for  Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth in Germany. How did you start to get engaged politically?

I was working as the commissioner for Europe in the Neukölln district of Berlin. At some point, I told myself that it’s not enough to stay in administrative work, because if you really want to change something, you have to get politically engaged. The decisive topic for me was the unequal opportunities children had in terms of education. Every year, we had around 15 percent of young people leave school without receiving a diploma. I joined the Social Democratic Party because making educational success independent from a person’s background is central to the SPD. I first became education counsellor, then mayor for the district. It has always been important to me to make sure that young people have an opportunity to develop their talents. This means that you have to provide support for this development from the state, too.

What are, in your opinion, the biggest obstacles for young people to actively shape society?

We have to open doors and show young people paths for getting engaged in society. One can start with small steps into this direction: as a young person, you can take part, for instance, in student council meetings and try to influence decisions that concern the school environment. We have to make sure that schools take political education seriously and that young people know the possibilities that exist for becoming active. This is especially crucial for young people who face difficulties in life and who don’t necessarily get the best support at home. Those who struggle with basic problems might not necessarily be able to engage. They first need to get support from other people, school, and society. It’s important to create places where entering into a dialogue and creating new ideas is possible. For me, the Schwarzkopf Foundation is such a place since it facilitates coming together and talking about the biggest challenges of our time. Discussing a topic is a first step for creating change.

What is your view on youth participation in Germany and Europe today?

The challenge everywhere in Europe is to enhance education on democracy and political participation, but to also to take a clear stance against hate, incitement, and populism. Young people need to be able to form their own opinions through verified information and a variety of information channels. It’s possible then to point out concrete ideas for them on how they can shape their immediate environments. At the federal level as well, young people should be included in all decisions that concern them. I think that our ministry’s guiding principle, “no youth project without youth participation,” is excellent. With our support programme for children and youth, we spend almost 200 million euros per year financing children and youth projects and the work of youth parliaments. We give young people a voice as independent, growing, and self-determined individuals.

What are your thoughts on the discussion event at the Schwarzkopf Foundation?

From the audience’s interest and the questions, I got the feeling that the young people were fully present; that they had ideas and their own opinions about the world. I left inspired from the discussion. For this, I am very grateful.

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