I am sure many of us are tired of hearing the old, worn out platitudes about the great potential of youth as drivers of development, as much needed reformers for change and justice. Yes, we have heard policymakers and people in power make these claims over and over again for a very long time. This overabundance of youth-related talk was only exacerbated by the fact that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon made youth a top priority in his five year action agenda. Now, as time passes and little in terms of constructive change in the realm of youth development and participation has actually occurred, there at least are some in the UN System and in government who are eager to set a new course. This was proven quite recently when UN-HABITAT brought together a number of relevant parties during the Asker Conference on Youth and Governance in Asker, Norway.
The meeting in Asker was an attempt by UN-HABITAT to bring new energy to important aspects of the youth agenda, namely the issue of the participation of youth in governance and policymaking. As the world begins to negotiate the Post-2015 Development Agenda in earnest, it is critical to resuscitate the political conversation around the value of youth engagement in policy, decision making, and accountability mechanisms. Civil society faces major obstacles to its inclusion in the coming New York-based process and it is critical that more and more stakeholders, namely governments, are able to voice their concerns about youth participation throughout the coming year. Therefore, UN-HABITAT’s decision to invite to the Asker Conference key governments active in the area of youth, namely Brazil, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and Somalia, showed that it was eager to finally create a sustained Member State-driven effort around the priorities set forth so long ago in Youth21, priorities that included making youth central to formal policymaking processes in the UN System and beyond.
UN-HABITAT also made an important decision to invite to Asker other key stakeholders in the youth field, especially large youth-led organizations that have been active in promoting the youth agenda for decades, as well as the Norwegian Children and Youth Council (LNU). That is why ICMYO organizations were represented there in such numbers. The International Movement of Catholic Students – Pax Romana (IMCS), the European Youth Forum (YFJ), the Latin American Youth Forum (FLAJ), the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), and AIESEC (as well as the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section were invited but could not attend) were all there representing their constituencies and the ICMYO network overall. With our presence, we were able to infuse a number of crucial aspects of youth participation into the conversation. We were especially adamant about the role youth can play in the monitoring and accountability aspect of the implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. We stressed the fact that the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) will need the active participation of youth to be effective and truly accountable. We also pushed the Ministers of Youth and UN participants at the conference to recognize the need for permanent mechanisms for youth participation and engagement.
ICMYO stands firmly behind its call for the establishment of permanent mechanisms for youth participation at all levels. We also remind our partners in the UN, in governments, and in civil society that we are here to work with you to flesh out these mechanisms and bring much needed fresh ideas and change to a stagnant political discourse. The UNSG himself continues to declare that young people matter, especially in the realm of development. In his recently released synthesis report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda titled The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet, he calls young people the “torch bearers of the next sustainable development agenda” and repeatedly recognizes the importance of children, youth, and other stakeholders in the fulfillment of post-2015 ambitions. The time is now to make good on the endless promises to youth and join us in crafting a role for young people in the sustainable development agenda that is permanent, real, effective, and worthy of the declaration made by Ban Ki-Moon. Although I started this story with a bit of a swipe at “old, worn out platitudes,” I think it wouldn’t hurt to conclude with one: Nothing for us without us.