The youth from 15-24 years of age are unique in that they are one of the largest demographic groups that has no formal mechanisms of representation within the U.N. system, as do other demographic groups via programmes such as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and U.N. Women. Nevertheless, young people globally are not only demanding to be heard but also taking positive action to advance their communities and societies. There is an urgent need, therefore, to put mechanisms in place that give the youth a broader and more meaningful stake in shaping the policy and work of international agencies such as the U.N.
The percentage of youth in the world’s population has reached an all time high. Youth are demanding a seat at the table where their future is being decided. Recent developments in the MENA region clearly demonstrate one possible outcome of denying youth the opportunity of participation in decision-making and policy development. These factors give a clear signal to the U.N. that there is an opportunity to engage the youth globally in a positive way, thereby making the U.N. relevant in their eyes.
In 1995, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY) to guide national and international action, so as to create an environment in which young people can flourish and develop their potential to the fullest. Since then, opportunities for young people to benefit from development have expanded within the U.N. system and on a global scale as well. Nonetheless, WPAY and other policies and frameworks, still do not have accompanying mechanisms that allow youth full and meaningful participation in decision-making; too often, they are viewed-upon as clients rather than partners and stakeholders.
The adoption of the World Programme of Action for Youth in 2000 marked a milestone in youth development in the U.N. Yet, youth are still looked upon as clients rather than equal stakeholders. Recent developments in the MENA region clearly demonstrate how youth without access to decision-making processes or other key policy can hinder development processes. The U.N. is in a situation where it can choose to be a beacon for the next generation, but to do this successfully would require a change in the prevalent attitude towards the youth.
What changes are needed to make the UN more relevant to the needs of the future generation? How can young people be facilitated to engage with the processes of the U.N. that closely impact their communities and their future? Is it at all possible to create mechanisms within the U.N. system to accommodate and legitimize the opinions of youth through representative youth voices? Is it, in sum, possible to prioritize the considered opinions of youth so that policies of nations may become not just youth oriented but also youth-led?
UN-HABITAT has historically engaged young people at all levels, from mainstreaming in its operations through its Youth Advisory Board to supporting urban youth through capacity building, training and the Urban Youth Fund. With the adoption of the resolution HSP/GC/23/7, UN-HABITAT was tasked by its Governing Council in April 2011 to explore, in co-operation with sister agencies and member states, the enhancement of youth engagement in the U.N. system. This report is the first step in engaging national governments, international partners and youth themselves in this process. The goal of this initiative is to empower the youth to positively affect and promote sustainable change in their communities globally, by developing mechanisms through which youth can directly engage in global governance and policy-making in the U.N. system.
Three different scenarios are presented, each demonstrating ways in which the U.N. can be more responsive to the youth. Scenario 1 outlines the possibility to upscale and enhance UNDESA’s Youth Unit. This scenario would enhance youth engagement, however, the youth would still be in a client role. Scenario 2 gives youth visibility and potential access to the Secretary-General and top level decision-making in UN, however much like the first scenario, it would mean that the youth would remain in the role of a client rather than a stakeholder. Further, a potential challenge with this scenario is that the Special Representative would not have any clear mechanism for youth to access policy discussions and decision-making processes. Scenario 3 outlines a menu of mechanisms to secure true and meaningfully youth engagement in the UN system. The combined and interdependent proposal of a Special Representative, a Permanent Youth Forum and Youth Platforms will give youth globally a seat at the table. A key strength with this scenario is its interdependence, yet reinforcing mechanism. All the proposed mechanisms don’t have to be established simultaneously, but one can foresee an incremental process. The appointment of a Special Representative can be the first step, and subsequently this person can work towards the establishment of a Permanent Forum. It is the opinion of the authors of this report that Scenario 3 is the most comprehensive model that truly gives youth access to decision-making processes and policy discussions at the UN level.
But is this indeed the best scenario for adoption? For that matter, are there other options, different from those outlined in this document that could be considered? Is there an option that might be quicker to achieve and easier to implement? This document is open to debate before a request is made, as in the document to the Secretary-General to commission a report that outlines a process towards implementing Scenario 3.