words by Kiana Rezakhanlou
illustration by Divya Seshadri
Meet Alaa Fawaz, the Lebanese-British youth activist who's determined to make young people heard. The Sixth Form student from Slough is not your average politician--she's been heavily invested in politics and advocacy from the age of fourteen. She uses Youth Parliament in her local area as a launchpad for creating change.
Youth Parliament was the first place that Alaa had the opportunity to speak with a respected voice, a voice her peers and elders gave weight to. With her new platform she knew she could instigate change, and she has not looked back since.
Her main focus is centered on voting empowerment. Recently, the voting age within England and Wales was lowered to 16. This allows the 16 and 17-year-olds--whose perspectives and experiences Alaa feels are so easily dismissed in society--the opportunity and right to have a say in the legislation and policies that impact their everyday lives. Her tireless devotion to the cause has led her to engage in conversation with none other than the British Prime Minister Theresa May, speak at the House of Commons 2017 Debate on votes to a standing ovation from her fellow Youth Parliament members, and become Slough’s Youth Parliament Chairwoman, all in the space of one year.
Alaa also stands as an example of success in U.K. politics. Although the government of the U.K. is fortunately in the stages of diversifying, it's no secret that it was historically a white boy's club, exclusive to the privileged few of British society. Today, only 32% percent of Members of Parliament serving in the House of Commons are female, and a mere 52 MPs are from an ethnic minority out of the 650 Members. Alaa sees these disparities not as source of discouragement from her political aspirations. but as a source of drive to pursue her ambitions and succeed. She knows she wants to be a voice for the groups of which her intersecting identities constitute.
The importance of young people participating in politics is something very dear to her heart, and it has become a running theme through her activism. Alaa wants every young person to feel they can express themselves and their opinions as contributing members of society in their own right.
Everything about Alaa’s work is for positive change: change in her community, change in her city, change in her country. The aspiring Law student wants to turn her attention to cases of Female Genital Mutilation within England and Wales, an issue that might have plenty of awareness in foreign countries, but is barely thought of in the U.K.
Her investment in advocating on behalf of people her age is indicative of the future Alaa wants to see: one where young people are adequately represented and not seen as a passive demographic to be dismissed by politicians and government alike. She is a champion for youth and shows no signs of backing down.