On February 2nd and 3rd, the World Youth Alliance attended the Youth Forum at the United Nations as part of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The theme was Youth Taking Action to Implement the 2030 Agenda. Topics discussed included the youth role in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, education, employment and entrepreneurship, climate change, health, poverty, gender inequality, and inclusive societies.
The Forum aimed at empowering the youth and including them in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). WYA has been participating in SDG development on behalf of youth for the past three years. Our team was proud to represent WYA’s members in these discussions. We attended breakout sessions on health and gender inequality as well as regional breakout sessions for Africa, Latin America, and Europe/North America.
During the regional breakout session on key regional priorities for youth development, young people described experiences from their own countries and the difficulties they had in implementing and supporting the SDGs. The discussion was held in a very democratic and interactive way, which gave the youth the feeling of being included in the UN’s efforts.
WYA interns Julia Kenney and Briac Cherel represented WYA at the North America and Europe session. One of the discussions focused on the question “Are young people not interested in politics?” Briac intervened and asserted that most young people are interested in politics but are disappointed by its flaws and corruption. Most participants also agreed that social development problems do not only exist in developing countries but also in developed countries: poverty and inequalities remain.
During the Latin America session, WYA intern Mercedes Richards took the floor to reply to comments made about the need to develop sexual health services in order to prevent young women’s pregnancies. She said that the best policy to reduce young pregnancy is to provide better education for young girls and boys, so they could have bigger plans for their lives and futures. She also added that cultural imperialism should always be avoided and that we should promote programs that respect cultural values and differences.
Patricia Gwambo represented WYA in the Africa breakout session. They discussed ways to end poverty (SDG 1), focusing on education, entrepreneurship, government accountability, security and agriculture. They also addressed the need to address issues of women’s inequality such as equality of opportunity, assuring women’s representation in governance, and ending harmful practices such as female genital mutilation.
The reports made during the plenary session focused on the issue of unemployment, together with a better inclusion of the youth at the UN and in governmental bodies and in decision-making. “Tomorrow is us,” as a participant said, “so decisions should be more taken by young people.”
During the plenary session in the afternoon many speakers spoke about partnerships between organizations, governments, private sector and the youth in order to implement the SDGs. Dan Price, the CEO of a credit-card processing company, encouraged the youth in entrepreneurship by saying that we were living a shift, a revolution, in today’s world.
In the short concluding panel, some issues for the youth were reaffirmed: decent employment, poverty, sustainable development, stable livelihood, among others. The administrator of the UN Development Program (UNDP) particularly insisted on one issue which, in her view, was important for the youth but which was not mentioned during the Forum at all: access to health services and the respect of sexual and reproductive health rights. In her view, these were the bases of young people’s health. Her statement was off-topic, however, since neither of these issues were a prime concern for youth, who never mentioned it in reporting back to the plenary following . Instead, while they may disagree on this issue, they found a lot of common ground in what were the most important problems facing youth today.
The Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth concluded the Forum by delivering a hopeful and powerful speech, insisting on the role of youth in transforming our world. Young people were really invested in the Forum and really wanted to make their voice heard as we represent about a third of the world population. We hope that these discussions will influence the CSocD so that political actors and civil society understand what the true priorities are for youth and work to meet those needs, rather than focusing on controversial issues which will do little to help youth’s most pressing needs and priorities.
Written by Briac Cherel, a current advocacy intern at the WYA headquarters.