Arab Youth as Partners in the Development Process

On December 13 and 14, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) partnered with the Tunisian National Observatory for Youth to hold a regional workshop on empowering young people within the Post-2015 development agenda. The workshop took place in Tunis and included representatives from thirteen Arab states and the League of Arab States.

The director of the World Youth Alliance Middle East office, Mr. Cedric Choukeir, was one of five youth representatives present at the workshop. Having already participated in three regional ESCWA workshops, WYA was given a leading role in guiding the discussions on youth priorities and participation. Mr. Choukeir introduced and moderated the third session of the first day titled: “Youth as Partners in the Development Process”.

The introductory presentation included a synthesis of the My World survey results in a number of Arab countries. The My World survey is a global effort led by the UNDP in partnership with a number of UN agencies and civil society organizations. The goal of the survey is to identify the global priorities among 16 issues, where each individual can vote for 6 priority issues out of the 16. So far, the survey has received more than 240,000 responses worldwide. In the countries of the Arab region, the top priorities of people who are under 34 years are common between different countries. These priorities include improving the quality of education, improving working conditions, improving healthcare, and having an honest and responsive government.

The panel discussion included presentations by three youth activists: Mr. Saber Alwouhaishy (Tunisia), Mr. Yasser Alraayani (Yemen), and Mr. Seebawih Alhassan (Sudan). The discussion tackled key questions regarding youth participation, including the different levels; that is from simply informing youth about development policies to youth themselves leading the development process. Other controversial issues were discussed including the need to ensure a diverse youth voice as opposed to a monopolized voice, moving from a superficial youth representation to actual institutionalized participation, the inclusion of youth within decision-making roles, and accepting young people’s voice even if it did not agree with the agenda’s of governments, UN agencies, and donor countries and institutions. The need to better define youth in qualitative terms rather than quantitative terms was also broadly discussed. The truth is that young people, as with adults, have different and diverse opinions that need to be reflected in any formal youth representation.

To conclude with a note of sad humor, this is quoted from Sudan’s representative: “Our cabinet has recently passed a measure ensuring that at least half of all government officials are young people under the age of 55”. This is not a typo, apparently anyone under the age of 55 in Sudan is still a young person at heart.