Amy Boldosser is Senior Program Officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International.
Yesterday at the United Nations, youth from around the world came together with Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, government representatives and heads of UN agencies to open the two-day (July 25-26, 2011) United Nations High Level Meeting on Youth. This meeting marks the culmination of the International Year of Youth which included regional youth consultations, campaigns and a year of hard work by youth advocates globally. The High Level Meeting (HLM) has the theme “Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding” and we’re hoping that these two days lead not only to improved dialogue and understanding but also to new commitments and concrete action from governments and UN agencies to protect and improve youth health and rights.
Speaking on the first thematic panel of the day, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, noted that the world population will reach 7 billion people this year and that 1.8 billion of those people are youth. Echoing the calls of youth advocates to see the largest ever youth population as part of the solution to global issues rather than as a challenge, Dr. Osotimehin referred to the “demographic bonus” of having a strong generation of young people who are helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), are at the forefront of advocating for protecting our environment in the Rio+20 process, and who are working hard to ensure and promote youth sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to comprehensive sexuality education.
Youth advocates participating in the HLM are highlighting the importance of bringing the perspectives, needs, and innovative ideas of young people to the international debate on development and achieving the Millennium Development goals. Leila Mucarsel, a sexual and reproductive health advocate from Argentina who also spoke on the first panel, defined real youth participation as ensuring youth involvement in all levels of policymaking and programming-including planning, budgeting, development, implementation and monitoring and evaluation. Juan Camilo Saldarriaga from Costa Rica, an International Planned Parenthood Western Hemisphere youth advocate who spoke at a side event, called for an end to “tokenism,” government officials simply meeting with youth to say they’ve done so, rather than actually taking into account the needs and demands of youth. Other youth advocates noted that youth participation goes beyond inviting a young person to sit at the table while adults make decisions but rather should include creating mechanisms to ensure that youth have the power to contribute to shaping programs and policies that affect them.
Unfortunately, the HLM itself has had mixed results on achieving youth participation. Youth advocates lamented the limited access they had to influence the Outcome Document for this High Level Meeting, many governments did not include any youth delegates in their country delegations to the meeting, and the panels and roundtables at the HLM often had more adult speakers than youth speakers. The young mayor of Geneva, 33 year old Pierre Maudet who was a part of the Swiss delegation to the HLM, noted that governments are sometimes reticent to have youth speak out because they risk hearing criticisms, dissent and demands, but that when governments take that risk they also hear enthusiastic and important new ideas and innovative solutions to the needs of their populations.
In his remarks at the opening session of the HLM, the Secretary-General asked the youth delegates whether the UN was doing enough for youth. The resounding response from the crowd was, “No!” The Secretary-General responded, “Then we need to do more.” Youth advocates will continue their work to hold him to that promise.
For more updates from the 2011 High Level Meeting on Youth:
Read The Youth Coalition’s newsletter from the HLM The Watchdog
Watch the live webcasts from the High Level Meeting on Youth
And on Twitter, follow @familycareintl and these youth organizations that make up the Sexual and Reproductive Rights Caucus at the HLM: @youth_coalition, @YouAct_Europe, @AdvocatesTweets, @YPEER, @ippf, @GYCA, @ippf_WHR. For more tweets from the HLM, check out the hashtags #youth11 and #IYY