Photo: I worked with delegates from Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago at the Youth Forum.
Integrating young people into the work and policies of the United Nations was formalized in 1995 with the adoption of the World Program Action for Youth (WPAY), stating that “young people in all countries are both a major human resource for development and key agents for social change, economic development and technological innovation….”
On February 2-3, 2015, I attended the opening session and annual Youth Forum of the Economic and Social Council (EcoSoc) of the United Nations. Attendees spent two days honoring the intentions of WPAY and discussing youth engagement in the transition from the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In his opening remarks at the forum, keynote speaker and Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, encouraged youth to shape policies that are “people-centered and planet-sensitive.” The Secretary-General later stated that we must continue to fight injustices globally with the solidarity and sensitivity gained through experiencing life as a global citizen.
The spirit of the annual EcoSoc Youth Forum paralleled youth sentiment worldwide: nothing about us, without us. Youth unemployment globally stands at 73 million; climate change will affect contemporary youth and future generations; and youth disenfranchisement further destabilizes already fractious political systems. At the Youth Forum, attendees sought to forge connections and facilitate discussions on youth engagement in the post-2015 development process while recognizing the long-term nature of the road ahead.
In discussing the transition from the MDGs to the SDGs and youth engagement, the rights and aspirations of indigenous youth were voiced by country representatives; the tenuous situation of LGBTIQ youth worldwide was mentioned by Mrs. Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme; the rift in educational attainment between young men and young women was discussed among attendees; the rights of disabled persons were tabled among panelists; and the importance of the youth inclusion was foremost in the minds of those attending the annual EcoSoc Youth Forum.
The United Nations tackles global problems. Correspondingly, the SDGs target large-scale problems with long-terms solutions. The transition from the MDGs to the SDGs must therefore include the perspectives of contemporary youth who will experience the long-term effects of climate change, the protracted battle for gender equality, and the prolonged exclusion of youth from the political process in many areas of the world. EcoSoc panelist Ms. Marija Lugarić, Member of the Parliament of Croatia, received applause with her remark: “If you are mature enough to elect, then you are mature enough to be elected.”
2015 marks the passage of three anniversaries: the 20th anniversary of the World Program Action for Youth; the 70th anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations; and the inaugural anniversary of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Although discussions at the EcoSoc Youth Forum have ended, the conversation continues online with the hashtag: #Youth2015. Join the conversation and voice your opinion(s) on youth involvement, youth engagement, and where you would like to see the world in 15 years.
15 Years is a wonderful timespan. Remember: it costs nothing to dream big.