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Sadia Malik




Obstacles to Political Participation for Youth in Pakistan

Sadia Malik, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Sargodha

Pakistan's political scenario presents a formidable challenge for its youth. Despite the daunting obstacles of family politics and the pervasive influence of the military, the nation's young people, particularly its girls, demonstrate a remarkable resilience. Exploring this through the lens of political psychology unveils a complex interplay that fosters apathy, undermines mental well-being, and ultimately hinders the nation's democratic growth.

At the heart of this issue lies the deep-rooted system of family politics. Dynasties, driven by wealth and feudal structures, dominate the political scene. Their accumulated wealth helps them to control media narratives and manipulate electoral processes. Witnessing the same families dominate the political scene for generations breeds hopelessness in young people who see limited opportunities to challenge the established order. This cynicism acts as a psychological barrier that discourages participation and fuels apathy. Further constricting the space for youth engagement is the military's historical role in strengthening family politics. The military has often supported specific families, creating a symbiotic relationship. These families benefit from the military's backing, while the military views them as reliable partners. This dynamic further entrenches the dynastic system and sends a clear message to young people that real power lies outside the democratic process. This creates significant barriers to entry for aspiring young politicians, especially young women facing additional societal constraints.

The consequent disillusionment can be visible as anxiety and frustration, taking a toll on their mental well-being. Feelings of powerlessness and a lack of control over their political future can lead to disengagement and even depression.  From a political psychology perspective, young people, particularly girls, experience a dampening of their political efficacy. They feel their voices unheard and their aspirations stifled. This, along with the perception of a rigged system, leads to feelings of helplessness and frustration. These psychological burdens can hinder not just their political participation but also their overall well-being. For young women, the challenges are compounded by societal norms. Cultural barriers often confine them to domestic spheres, hindering their political aspirations. The lack of role models and support networks further discourages their participation. Witnessing a closed political system dominated by men can exacerbate feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy, impacting their mental well-being and sense of agency.

Amidst the seemingly insurmountable challenges, there are promising signs of change. Social media is emerging as a powerful tool, empowering young people to connect, bypass traditional media gatekeepers, and amplify their voices. The growing middle class, with its demands for accountability and transparency, signifies a yearning for a break from the status quo. To dismantle the web of family politics and military influence, Pakistan needs a multi-pronged approach. Strengthening the free judiciary, free and fair election commission, and rule of law is crucial. Political parties must clearly articulate their manifesto and be prepared for public accountability. They must actively create space for youth participation. The role of media is pivotal, and it must be free from the influence of certain families and powerful institutions. An open debate culture should be promoted, and every person should be free to express their political opinion. Finally, the military's withdrawal from direct political interference is essential to foster a truly democratic space where all voices, especially those of young women, can be heard.

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