It’s Wednesday April 24 and I am sitting at Vienna Café of the UN Headquarters in New York. I look at my watch and it is 7 PM already, my colleague from the World Youth Alliance, Elyssa, starts teasing me about how the UN youth envoy stood me up. Elyssa leaves me waiting by myself on the couch, as she returns to the negotiation rooms of the 46th annual Commission on Population and Development (CPD). This year’s theme is on “new trends in migration: demographic aspects”.
I take out the business card of Ahmad Alhendawi, the first ever Youth Envoy to the UN General Secretary, and I send him a text asking whether he was going to make it. I met Ahmad for the first time six months ago at a youth conference taking place in Cairo. He was the main facilitator of that conference and invited me for lunch. As a facilitator, he was curious to know who I was because of my continuous disruption of the work flow, I was questioning some of the language and was not rolling over to the event organizers. I was happy to have randomly encountered him at the CPD in New York and even happier that he invited me for coffee. Ahmad replies to the text saying he is almost there.
Awkwardness, that was the only thought going through my mind. I was expecting a one on one conversation with Ahmad over coffee, instead I find myself among a group of 10 other youth representatives selected by UNFPA to convey their concerns to the Youth Envoy. All the youth NGOs brought it in by UNFPA were pushing delegates to include abortion and sexual rights in the CPD main resolution, as they considered them to be the top priority of youth and women. Being a young person myself living and interacting with youth from developing countries, I was the only person on the other side of the fight sitting at the table.
I believe the UN is a place that respects diversity culture and religion and not a tool to impose the Western agenda and values on developing nations. I also don’t believe a handful of youth NGOs funded by UNFPA have an objective standing on youth priorities but are bias towards the priorities of their sponsors. Let’s face it, youth are looking for better education, access to health care, and quality jobs. More importantly, is abortion and sexual rights ever on the mind of migrants who are forced to leave their homes because of conflict or intolerable living conditions? I managed to survive that meeting with exceptional maneuvering and diplomatic skills by diverting the focus to the increase of youth participation in policymaking at the national level, without focusing on one limited policy area.
Ahmad apologized as he had not expected the meeting to be like that, and invited me for dinner afterwards at a Turkish restaurant. Coming from neighboring countries; Jordan and Lebanon, we had a lot of things to discuss in Arabic. One point that really struck me was Ahmad’s disappointment in not finding real youth at the UN. He was looking for a real youth voice, young people who are not sponsored by countries or organizations to promote an agenda.
Through the World Youth Alliance, I hope to get that real voice out there, not the voice of young people living in developed countries, but the voice of the desperate youth who are unemployed, hungry, and excluded from the social and economic networks.
By Cedric Choukeir, Regional Director, WYA Middle East.