The Palestinian Association for Empowerment and Local Development—REFORM organised a round table session as part of the “United in Diversity IIII” project, which focused on the effects of the economic reality and the challenges of youths’ participation in public affairs in the Gaza Strip. This was held at the Museum Hotel in Gaza City, in the presence of a group of experts and specialists along with 25 young activists from the governorates of the Gaza Strip.

During the meeting, Dr. Samir Abu Mudallala, the Dean of Al-Azhar University's Faculty of Economics, emphasised the significance of granting young individuals the chance to actively engage in the political sphere. He stressed the importance of affording them the legitimate exercise of their democratic and constitutional entitlements, along with the imperative of allowing them the liberty to voice their perspectives devoid of undue pressures and constraints.

Dr. Raed Helles, a renowned expert in economic and development affairs, underscored that empowering youth hinges on tackling the economic and social challenges they face. He advocated for the formulation of enduring economic strategies that foster lasting employment prospects and mitigate unemployment rates.

Dr. Mahmoud Issa, a distinguished advisor in economic and developmental affairs, addressed several urgent concerns regarding youth within the backdrop of a challenging economic landscape. He pointed out the repercussions of the economic blockade on daily life, the deteriorating living standards and the escalating unemployment rates. He emphasised the significance of bridging the divide between educational and vocational competencies and the requirements of the job market, outlining a crucial pathway forward.

During the meeting, the participants engaged in a comprehensive dialogue about the prevailing economic conditions and the involvement of youth in public matters. They delved into the implications and hurdles, notably the stark issue of elevated unemployment, particularly salient in Gaza. Further deliberations revolved around the dwindling economic growth rates stemming from the blockade and persistent political strains. These factors have resulted in diminished avenues for investment and hindered the expansion of the private sector. Moreover, the discourse also covered financial instability, shedding light on the dire situation in the Gaza Strip where essential services like healthcare, education, and infrastructure suffer due to insufficient funding.

These challenges have far-reaching consequences on the engagement of young individuals in public matters. They encompass a dearth of political avenues and participation options, leaving young people struggling to join the political discourse and influence decisions. This, in turn, curtails their representation and dampens their potential contribution to societal advancement. Further compounded by limitations on fundamental freedoms, youth in Gaza encounter constraints on expression and a curtailment of their sense of belonging. These restrictions impede their capacity to interact and engage meaningfully. Furthermore, the scarcity of educational and training opportunities compounds the issue. This scarcity could potentially hinder the nurturing of young people's skills and limit their ability to participate in a meaningful manner.

The youth also underlined how the persisting political tensions and the challenging economic circumstances can exert psychological and social strains on them. These pressures might subsequently impact their enthusiasm for participation and their overall positivity within society. As the meeting drew to an end, they concurred on a holistic solution for these dilemmas. They stressed the paramount importance of uniting divisive factions, conducting elections, and on a more localised scale, extending educational and training possibilities. The elevation of youths’ rights and freedoms was also advocated, alongside fostering collaborations with international organisations and private entities. Such alliances are seen as pivotal in bolstering sectoral development and providing the youth with ample opportunities to engage effectively in public affairs.

This activity comes as part of the “United in Diversity IIII” project, implemented by the Palestinian Association for Empowerment and Local Development – REFORM, in partnership with Norwegian People’s Aid. This project aims to promote young men and women’s participation in decision-making processes through monitoring plans and policies of organisations and holding local organisations accountable at the level of public policies that increase youth’s participation in public life.