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Democracy players Anja Wyden Guelpa: taking democracy to today’s youth

Anja Wyden Guelpa is considered one of the most active and innovative players when it comes to promoting democracy in Switzerland. 

She has made it her mission over the past 11 years in her senior government post to interest the young generation in politics and show them what impact political decisions have on them.

Who is the 45-year old? swissinfo.ch paid her a visit. 

She served for served for two full terms, until the end of April 2018, as the first woman Chancellor of Geneva. Born in the German-speaking mountain region of the Rhone valley, she might not seem to fit the stereotypical idea of a government administrator in a French-speaking canton. When she ran for the post at 36, she wanted to talk to people as equals, face to face, without patronising them. Young people and children are especially close to her heart.

Her ambition was to show them how political decisions shape the neighbourhoods, the city, the canton and the country where they live.

Pitching in

The reality is that 70% of the 18 to 25-year old Swiss usually don’t exercise their right to vote. It’s not because they don’t understand what is going on, but they don’t feel involved or affected by ballot box decisions.

This is where Wyden Guelpa saw the need for action. She wanted to bring people closer to state institutions. She says she couldn’t physically take the town hall to the people, but she could open the town hall, the seat of the government and parliament to its citizens.

The programme Institutions 3Dexternal link (all links in French only) is a 3D format for school children to learn the basics of political institutions. Ten-year olds can try out being a parliamentarian in a playful but perfectly serious manner.

The children prepare their own draft proposals and bring them to the parliamentary chamber where the issues are debated and voted on.

Other projects, launched by canton Geneva, include Semaine de la démocratie (democracy week)external link and CinéCivicexternal link, a competition for films and posters created by young artists aged 10-25 that carry a message encouraging young people to vote. 

Five other French-speaking Swiss cantons have now joined in organising the competition.

Motivation

Wyden Guelpa says a key moment motivating her was a day back in 1983.

It was December 7 when the centre-right majority in the Swiss parliament blocked the election of the Social Democratic candidate, Lilian Uchtenhagen, to the government.

In her stead, a man from the same party, Otto Stich, won the seat in the seven-member cabinet.

Citizen at the centre

For Wyden Guelpa it is all about giving responsible people the tools and enabling them to take informed decisions in the political process.

But it is not just about ballot box decisions, she says.

Wyden Guelpa says she is ready to take on new professional challenges after 11 years in government.

Anja Wyden Guelpa

Born in canton Valais in 1973, she studied political science at the universities of Tübingen (Germany) and Geneva. She has a master’s degree in public administration. 

Wyden Guelpa worked as a project leader for the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and as consultant for the multinational IBM computer technology company. 

A member of the Geneva chapter of the Social Democratic Party, she has been active in various institutions. 

In 2009, Wyden Guelpa became the first woman to be elected Chancellor (government administrator) of canton Geneva.

She stepped down from the post at the end of April 2018.

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 This text is part of #DearDemocracy, a platform on direct democracy issues, by swissinfo.ch.

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Translated from German and French/urs,ac , swissinfo.ch

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