Youth Representation or Youth Manipulation?

2000px-Emblem_of_the_Arab_League.svgThe topic of youth inclusion is gaining more and more momentum with international organizations as young people around the world are playing a more important role in influencing decision-makers. Government representation at the international level is an easy matter of a decision from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Youth representatives present more complications, as young people are often used to promote the agendas and interests of certain countries or agencies.

I recently attended the regional Arab States Conference for the ICPD +20 that took place from June 24 till June 26. The aim of the conference was to review the progress made so far regarding the ICPD program of action over the past 19 years in the Arab region and to come up with a declaration that would feed into the UN General Assembly Special Session on ICPD Beyond 2014 that is planned to take place in September 2014.

Youth participation played a key role in shaping the declaration of the conference, as the unofficial representatives were given a 30 minute panel to lead along with a seat in the negotiations of the drafting committee. The youth representative was being allowed to participate in the negotiations in the same manner as country delegations; a practice that goes against UN protocol. Unfortunately, youth participation was monopolized by the UNFPA sponsored “Arab Youth Coalition for the ICPD Beyond 2014” that included mostly UNFPA partner youth NGOs and 15 International Planned Parenthood Federation staff members. Donor funding highly influenced the coalition’s priorities as can be seen from their Call to Action, a replica of the UNFPA agenda. In the region that has the highest youth unemployment rates in the World, the four page call to action fails to mention the issue even once.

This is a call out to country representatives and young people all around the world not be fooled by well branded youth representatives. It is important to ask who is funding their travel expenses and five star hotels, why they are being funded, which organizations they represent, and how they decide on their priorities. Most youth coalitions “created specifically” to advocate for one conference, such as the ICPD, build their advocacy messages with the aid of facilitators from the funding agency that direct them based on the agency’s goals. The selection process is also very important, as there is usually no open call for youth NGOs to join the coalition, and only the NGOs that are in line with the funding agency’s positions are invited to join.

These fake coalitions should ask youth in the Arab region what they truly want before monopolizing their voice and handing it over to an international organization with an agenda that is contradictory to the region’s priorities.

Cedric Choukeir is the Regional Director of the World Youth Alliance in the Middle East and North Africa.