30 May 2024

Empowering disadvantaged youth in Europe | EFIVOS Articles


Author: Teodora Akinola

Despite its reputation for promoting equality and active engagement, democracy is still unknown to an important proportion of young people across Europe. Disadvantaged youth, despite representing the foundation of the society of the future, are frequently excluded from the democratic process due to obstacles that limit their ability to contribute actively. Acknowledging the importance of inclusive participation, European countries have initiated efforts to break down these obstacles, guaranteeing that all parts of the youth demographic is able to influence and have a voice in shaping their future.

At the core of any democracy lies the fundamental principle of democratic participation. The necessity to involve all segments of the population, particularly underprivileged young people, has become more significant in Europe, due to widening socioeconomic gaps and increasing political dissatisfaction. To address the unique challenges that disadvantaged youth face, initiatives, programs, and policies have been developed to provide them with the necessary resources and support to engage in democratic processes. From educational initiatives to community outreach programs, these efforts seek to empower youth and amplify their voices. 

Education plays a pivotal role in fostering an inclusive democracy, equipping young individuals with the essential abilities required to actively participate in civic life. Access to quality education, especially for marginalized communities, continues to be unequal. In order to rectify this discrepancy, European governments have introduced a variety of measures aimed to increase educational possibilities for underprivileged youth. These efforts seek to create equitable conditions by providing vocational training, apprenticeships, and early childhood education programs so that every young person can have the necessary resources to engage in democratic activities.

Furthermore, endeavors have been taken to improve the political education of vulnerable youth, equipping them with the understanding and skills essential for navigating the complicated rules of the democratic system. Online resources, youth-led seminars, and civics education programs have been created to equip youth with the knowledge and skills essential to become engaged and informed members of society. Through the promotion of critical thinking and simplifying of the democratic process, these initiatives enable young people with disadvantages to stand up for their objectives and actively participate in projects that foster favorable social transformation.

In Europe, community-based initiatives hold the highest priority in cultivating inclusivity beyond the boundaries of education. Administrations and organizations from civil society are implementing a variety of measures that support marginalized youth, to emphasize the importance of local engagement. Youth councils, community coordinating activities, and collaborative budgeting initiatives all grant young individuals’ spaces to express their worries, suggest remedies, and take part actively in the formulation of policies that have an impact on their existence.

In addition, digital technologies have surfaced as powerful instruments for advancing inclusiveness within the democratic system of Europe. Youngsters can use online platforms and social media channels to interact, work together, and organize in support of causes that are significant to them. Digital spaces provide marginalized youth with the means to express their opinions and concerns, even when conventional avenues for political engagement are unavailable, with tools such as online petitions and virtual town halls. Nonetheless, in order to prevent additional marginalization, these technologies must be made affordable to all youth, irrespective of socioeconomic status.

Regardless of these attempts, impediments continue in reaching the goal of complete inclusivity within Europe. The continued presence of established power dynamics, institutional obstacles, and systemic inequalities prevents the active involvement of marginalized young people in processes of decision-making. Also, the worsening of previous inequalities by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic highlights the necessity for targeted actions focused on offering guidance to underprivileged groups.

Challenges in democratic participation 

  • Socio-economic barriers: Frequently, economic inequality interferes with access to schooling and knowledge, both of which are essential for informed involvement in democratic processes. Youth who are socioeconomically disadvantaged experience a disproportionate impact from insufficient resources, limited opportunities, and restricted access to high-quality education. These factors obstruct their capacity to engage actively in democratic processes.
  • Political disenfranchisement: Decreased rates of political participation among according to socioeconomic status less fortunate young people may result from feelings of separation or dissatisfaction with the political system. A lack of interest and detachment can occur from disadvantaged groups considering their views as unimportant or ignored in the context of mainstream political conversation.
  • Lack of representation: The underrepresentation of marginalized communities in the political system contributes to a sense of alienation and indifference. Less fortunate young adults frequently don't have positive role models or teachers in positions of authority, making it difficult for them to imagine themselves being involved in policymaking that impacts their way of life.
European initiatives for inclusivity

The EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027 aims to actively involve connect, and encourage young people, especially those from economically disadvantaged communities, by promoting their active participation in society through a wide range of activities. It aims to encourage integration into society, facilitate opportunities for education and employment, and provide spaces for youngsters to speak about their challenges and dreams.

By enabling young people to attend school, work out, and experience life overseas, the Erasmus+ Program seeks to boost abilities, employment prospects, and to foster a feeling of European unity amongst youngsters from various backgrounds. The program promotes cross-cultural contact, critical thinking, and civic participation, enabling underprivileged adolescents to become engaged in democratic processes.

Offering avenues for volunteer work or projects benefiting communities across Europe, the European Solidarity Corps promotes solidarity and social inclusion among young people. By engaging in meaningful activities that address societal challenges, disadvantaged youth develop a sense of agency and belonging, fostering their active involvement in shaping their communities and societies.

Case studies of national initiatives

  • Youth Councils and Parliaments: Many European nations have established youth councils or parliaments, providing platforms for young people to voice their opinions and influence policies relevant to their lives. These councils serve as forums for dialogue between youth and policymakers, enabling marginalized groups to advocate for their rights and interests effectively.
  • Civic education programs: Educational initiatives focusing on political awareness and understanding are instrumental in nurturing a culture of democratic participation among disadvantaged youth. By incorporating civics education into school curricula and extracurricular activities, countries empower young people with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage meaningfully in democratic processes.
  • Digital inclusion projects: Recognizing the significance of digital literacy, several EU nations have launched initiatives to enhance digital access and skills among disadvantaged youth. These projects aim to bridge the digital divide by providing training, resources, and support to underserved communities, enabling them to leverage technology for civic engagement and political participation.
Impact and Outcomes

  • Increased participation: Inclusive programs have demonstrated promising outcomes by bolstering political engagement among disadvantaged youth. By providing opportunities for meaningful participation and representation, these initiatives empower marginalized groups to have a voice in decision-making processes and contribute to shaping policies that affect their lives.
  • Greater representation: Efforts to integrate youth voices in policymaking processes have resulted in more representative decision-making across governance levels. By diversifying political representation and fostering inclusivity, European democracies enhance the legitimacy and effectiveness of their democratic institutions, ensuring that they reflect the interests and values of all citizens.
  • Challenges and limitations: Despite advancements, significant socioeconomic obstacles highlight the importance of continuous innovation and personalized assistance for disadvantaged youth to fully participate in democracy. Systemic disparities, economic limitations, and cultural challenges continue to impede disadvantaged groups' equal participation, requiring continuous attempts to address the root causes and promote a more inclusive democratic society.
As European nations continue to grapple with these challenges, it is crucial that they remain committed to promoting inclusivity in democracy and breaking down the barriers that prevent disadvantaged youth from fully participating in the political process. This requires a concerted effort to address the root causes of marginalization, invest in education and civic engagement, and create opportunities for young people to have their voices heard. By working together to promote inclusivity, European nations can build more resilient, vibrant, and democratic societies that reflect the diversity and richness of their populations.

To summarize, the pursuit for inclusion in European democracy is a continuous process, distinguished by progress, obstacles, and possibilities. The coordinated efforts to remove barriers for underprivileged youths reflect the European governments' commitment to the principles of fairness, accountability, and involvement. While significant progress has been made towards inclusivity, particularly through initiatives such as the EU Youth Strategy, Erasmus+, and the European Solidarity Corps, constant social and economic gaps and structural inequalities remain substantial obstacles to full civic engagement.

Nonetheless, inclusive policies and initiatives have an obvious influence, as indicated by increasing young involvement and representation in processes of decision-making. European democracies enhance the trustworthiness and effectiveness of their institutions by strengthening less fortunate individuals and amplifying their voices, as well as fostering a culture of belonging and inclusion among all individuals.

Moving forward, continuous effort and creative thinking are required to address the many barriers that disadvantaged youngsters experience in fully taking part in democratic processes. Government officials, educational institutions, civil society organizations, and communities must collaborate to eliminate obstacles caused by institutions, reduce socioeconomic discrepancies, and build a more inclusive democratic culture. By maximizing the collective potential of all young, regardless of their origin or their situation, European democracies can achieve their objective of a vibrant, accountable, and resilient democratic society in which every point of view matters and everyone has the ability to decide their own fate.


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European Solidarity Corps – Our mission and principles | European Youth Portal. (n.d.). European Youth Portal. 
European Parliament. (2023, December). Youth participation in European elections
The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). (n.d.). Shaping Europe’s Digital Future
European Parliament. (2019, September). Research for CULT Committee – Education and Youth in the European Union - Current challenges and future prospects. 
Understanding youth engagement in Europe through open data | data.europa.eu. Publications Office of the EU. 
Inclusive education. (n.d.). European Education Area. 

This article is published under the framework of the EFIVOS project. EFIVOS is an initiative aimed at increasing knowledge and awareness of EU institutions, policies, and democratic procedures. This podcast has been funded through project 101081482 — EFIVOS in Europe — CERV-2022-CITIZENS-CIV.

​​The European Commission support for the production of this article does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflect the view only of the authors, and the Commission can not be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.