As part of the International Year of Youth, the United Nations General Assembly hosted a “High-Level Meeting on Youth” on July 25 and 26. The meeting was focused on enhancing youth participation in international forums and fostering mutual understanding among youth from different cultures and backgrounds. The WYA interns, along with many other WYA members from all over the world, attended the event and contributed to the varied conversations either as official young delegates or as spectators. The main components of the meeting were held in the General Assembly Hall at the UN. Additionally, there were many side events hosted by a variety of NGOs and other groups—including WYA—which the interns and members attended.
The first day of the meeting began with an opening plenary, in which Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the young people to the meeting and re-emphasized that “youth should be given a chance to take an active part in the decision-making of governments at local, national, and global levels.” He asked the youth in the audience if the United Nations was doing enough for them. They responded with a resounding “NO,” and the Secretary-General expressed his hope that this meeting could be a forum for discussion to change that sentiment.
The opening plenary was followed by two thematic panel discussions: the first one focusing on strengthening international cooperation regarding youth as indispensible elements towards achieving social integration, full employment and the eradication of poverty; the second on challenges to youth development opportunities. Delegates from various countries presented statements, and young people from various NGOs and youth groups also had the opportunity to take the floor for a few short minutes. Many of the delegates boasted about what their countries are doing to involve youth in the international discussions, while the youth commentaries undoubtedly called for further opportunities for youth to enter the dialogue. Some youth commented about very specific challenges faced by youth in their countries, and asked the General Assembly to work with them in solving these issues.
The second day, plenary meetings were held in the General Assembly in which delegations and youth continued to take the floor discussing a wide range of issues. In fact, there were so many individuals on the agenda that they were not near finished by 5:30 on Tuesday evening. Thus, these plenary sessions are scheduled to continue on Thursday, until the program is concluded.
While the official GA events and the side events were important means of discussing the challenges that youth face, the real benefit of HLMY came from the opportunity that it gave young people to make contacts with one another, as well as with prominent UN officials and leaders. WYA interns and members were able to make many contacts with such individuals, broadening our network and promoting our cause.
Throughout HLMY, as I talked with youth from other groups, and we shared information and opinions with one another, one major theme stood out to me: less talk, more action. While events like HLMY are great ways to get things moving, young people from all countries want to see real change, and they want it as soon as possible. There are pressing issues that need to be immediately addressed in furthering access to basic human rights and providing equality for people all over the world. It’s important for us as young people to find common ground, and to join our voices together, in order to be heard and work towards solutions for the many issues that were discussed at HLMY.
Whitlie Kauffman, 23
WYA Member, United States