Toronto

Afghan civic engagement group hopes to get more youth to the polls

The Afghan Youth Engagement and Development Initiative is hitting social media to motivate more Toronto Afghan youth to vote in the municipal election. Executive Director Khalidha Nasiri says the community's political voice has been growing.

Toronto voters are set to head to the polls in the municipal election on Monday

Members of Afghan Youth Engagement and Development Initiative: Internal director Zohal Mirzanabat, left, and vice president Zoohra Mirzanabat. (Facebook)

With Toronto voters set to head to the polls in the municipal election on Monday, one organization is still aiming to help one of the city's many ethnic groups cast their ballot. 

Toronto-based Afghan Youth Engagement and Development Initiative (AYEDI) says the city's Afghan community has faced unique challenges in trying to organize and contribute civically.

"Because of the experiences our parents have had in Afghanistan ... there's a lot of distrust in the system," AYEDI executive director Khalidha Nasiri told CBC Toronto.

"There's a bit of a cynical view of democracy and civic engagement in general that's been passed along ... to the younger generations."    

Afghanistan's political scene has been tainted by the aftermath of a disputed presidential vote in 2014 that forced the two main rival groupings to form an unstable partnership.

Both sides were accused of massive electoral cheating. Numerous allegations of voter fraud made before the election have also presented a challenge to the legitimacy of the process.

Afghan community faces challenges

Nasiri has been a part of organizations like Scarborough Transit Action and the Canadian-Muslim Vote. She has been representing her riding of Scarborough-Guildwood with the Equal Voice's 2017 Daughters of the Vote initiative.

Nasiri says civic education and resources are not readily accessible to Afghan youth and attributes some of the oversight to the Afghan community's relatively low population in Canada.

UReach Toronto, a religious organization aiming to connect the city's multicultural communities, cites the number of Afghans in Toronto at around 21,000 in 2017.  

AYEDI launched in May, and as a grassroots Afghan youth-led group, it aims to cultivate civic engagement and social development in first and second-generation Afghan-Canadian youth — generations that are themselves reconciling the legacy of scars and conflict faced by their predecessors and those still in Afghanistan.

Khalidha Nasiri is the executive director of AYEDI. She was inspired to start the group after seeing Jagmeet Singh become the first racialized person ascend to leader of a federal political party last year. (Facebook)

Nasiri has a background working in government, research and youth leadership programs and saw the need for AYEDI after talking with youth in her community.

"When I sat down with some of the other youth that are involved, and we talked how we can possibly address this issue, it gave me a great perspective on starting this organization and how we can really reach out and achieve our goals," she said.   

AYEDI has started a social media campaign to put a face to those who say they want to inspire civic engagement among Afghan youth. Nasiri says it is important for young Afghans to see community leaders who are trying to impact government on different levels. 

Voter turnout on the rise

On the federal, provincial and municipal levels, voter turnout is on the rise. Elections Canada found that in the 2015 federal election, over 66 per cent of voters aged 18 to 24 came out to the polls. An 12 per cent increase from 2011. Elections Ontario reported a jump to 58 per cent this year from 51 per cent in 2014.

In the last municipal election, the city of Toronto reported close to a million Torontonians cast their ballot at the polls. A noticeable 20 per cent increase from the 2010 election. 
Zahra Rajabi is one of the community youth leaders featured by the group's social media campaign leading up to the Toronto elections. (Facebook)

Nasiri says she wants the momentum to keep going for not only the general Toronto population but Afghan youths. The group plans on expanding by offering a mentorship program and further exploring ways to better educate Afghans on political policy and civic contribution.  

Nasiri says she wants the Afghan youth community in Toronto to be mindful of the sacrifices that are being made in Afghanistan, where suicide bombers are killing voters at the polls.

"We should really use the situation there [Afghanistan] as sort of a lesson or to help us realize why it's important for us to be involved here [Toronto]," she said. "Our vote here, really does count and young Afghans really do have the chance to make a difference in their lives."     

About the Author

Mrinali has written and produced stories for CBC's The National, CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup, CBC News Network and CBC Entertainment News.

With files from Reuters

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