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Eja's mayor is an example of how young people have power

Isabel Guedes was 21 years old when she was elected, for the first time, president of the parish council of Eja, in Penafiel. It is an example of how young people have power and can exercise it, they who are often criticized for not being interested in politics. This and other themes were debated this Friday morning in Matosinhos, in the first conference of a cycle organized by the Academic Federation of Porto, in collaboration with JN, under the scope of the European Year of Youth.

Now in the second term, the president of the Board of Eja did not have an easy life when he launched into politics, in 2017. Speaking at the conference this Friday alongside another mayor, Luísa Salgueiro, mayor of Matosinhos, Isabel Guedes said she had "some complications" in the application process. The more skeptical questioned: "She is a child. How is she going to manage all this and how is she going to be in charge of a parish council?". The fact that she is a woman apparently did not play in her favor either. "I am the first woman, after the 25th of April, to assume the position of council president in the parish."

The theme "Democracy and Freedom" was being debated and the story that the mayor of Eja told in the first person was not only an example. It also served as a warning. In her opinion, "there is a lack of incentive" for young people to make their contribution, in politics as in other areas, especially because, she added, this generation is considered to be the "most qualified and prepared". But not the most rewarded.

The tone was set for other issues, in particular the difficulties that young people face and that the Academic Federation of Porto (FAP) did not want to miss this day, August 12, that the UN consecrated as the International Youth Day. Unemployment, difficulties in having their own homes (and the consequent postponement of the decision to start a family) and the lack of correspondence between the investment made throughout their academic life and their entry into the labor market, all problems aggravated by the pandemic, are just some examples.

"Nothing is guaranteed"

Knowing that today's young people were already born in the midst of democracy, they were also warned about the dangers of taking it for granted. "Nothing is guaranteed," said Luísa Salgueiro, recalling examples of countries close to ours where "extremist, xenophobic, nationalist, and racist currents" are growing.

Considering that it is a cliché to say that young people are disinterested, the mayor of Matosinhos pointed out that "there are more and more causes" in which they are involved, such as climate action, defense of minorities or migrants. She even cited a recent study by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, according to which young people are not only interested but are intervening. "They just have other ways of doing it," he added, regarding the usual and irreversible use of digital media.

"I don't feel an amorphous generation, I feel an intervening, participative generation that often awakens us to the need to reorient our municipal budgets", he added, regarding the fact that, also in Matosinhos, young people are leaders in the discussion of many themes.

The difficulties felt at a national level are similar to those that Isabel Guedes identifies in Eja, a parish with only 900 inhabitants and quite aged. Many young people go to study in Porto and end up not coming back. The president of the Junta intends to create a "youth council", in order to "create strategies" for the parish and change this reality.

Talking about the youngsters is, inevitably, also talking about social networks. In this regard, Ana Gabriela Cabilhas, president of the FAP, said that "there is a set of opportunities that should be taken advantage of by political decision-makers", who, in her opinion, "should be with young people on the networks". But, when questioned about whether the digital age means more freedom or new problems, the associative leader also left a warning about the misuse of the digital space. She said that young people have to be the first to defend it, but they also have to know how to distinguish "what is freedom of expression and respect for others".

Let's go back to the Eja Parish Council, which has had an official Facebook page since 2017. For Isabel Guedes, the digital age does not give political activism a false sense of proximity. On the contrary. Although the population is aging, there is always a grandchild or another person who can, through this social network, transmit to the Junta the concerns of the elderly. The road has two paths: in terms of disclosure, the president of the Junta can reach a greater number of people.

The second conference of this cycle will take place in Gaia, on September 1st, and will be on the theme "Sustainability and Climate Action". The last session, allusive to the challenges of youth in Portugal and Europe, will take place in Porto, on the 24th of the same month.

Source: JN


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