How I realised my democratic privilege

I’m currently studying for my masters in Poverty, Inequality and Development at the University of Birmingham. I chose the course because I wanted to study international development and this pathway in particular caught my eye. The chance to learn more about the persisting poverty in our world, the inequalities that exist, and how we can rectify these injustices resonated with me. 

I expected to be challenged with shocking statistics, pessimistic portrayals of poverty and to be confronted with my own privilege. And I have been. Traversing topics like FGM, child soldiers, economic inequality, corruption, environmental degradation and the impact of the climate emergency on our already large global refugee crisis has all been eye-opening. Not to mention the difficulty for organisations to attempt fixing these problems without making them worse. However, what I didn’t expect was for my most challenging module to be about democracy.

The right to vote

I guess democracy is something I’ve always taken for granted, which is precisely the problem. Growing up in the UK I’ve always had the right to vote as an adult. I’ve also been aware of the struggles fought for me, as a woman, to be able to vote. However, I’ve never been aware of the privilege it is to vote in the first place. 

I’ve learnt about dictators and corrupt rulers worldwide who use a toolbox of tricks and manipulation to restrict, repress and revoke the rights of their countries citizens to vote everyday. And it isn’t just developing countries. It would be easy to assume this happens to fledgling democracies, countries recovering from civil war or violent regimes. But voter restriction is on the rise in developed countries too. Strict voter identification laws routinely disenfranchise disadvantaged communities, which at their worst purposefully act to restrict the votes of often minority communities.

With great power… 

So not only is it a huge privilege to live in a democracy, it’s an even greater one to live in a functioning democracy. Now I’ve learnt the lengths to which some governments and rulers go to to restrict people’s ability and right to vote, my own vote has become even more precious. As a result, I’m now even more determined not to waste it and to encourage everyone else around me to do the same.  

So what can you do? Whatever you current political views, whether you are engaged with politics or not, you can get involved. 

1. Register to vote

Ensure you’re always registered to vote, if you’ve moved house or are a student it’s easy to check where you can vote and to sign up to do so. Don’t get caught out and miss upcoming elections. Get signed up now and encourage those around you to do the same! 

2. Vote

It’s no use registering and not using your democratic privilege.  So do not listen to the voices that say your vote doesn’t matter. It does, and it undermines democracy to say and act like it doesn’t. Don’t allow the power of your vote to be lost to disengagement and distrust.

3. Pray

A few clicks will reveal countries for which democracy is a distant hope. Read up on a few of these countries and commit to praying for them. For the people suffering under oppressive regimes and for the corrupt rulers that control them. Pray for reform, pray for peace and pray for democracy to be restored or instigated in those countries.

Democracy is not a given, it’s a privilege. Voting isn’t a given right. It’s given to us by the systems and institutions within which we live, and it can be taken away. So use it and appreciate it for all those that don’t yet have the privilege to do so.

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