youth are the essential link
Ever wondered what it would be like to raise your voice at the United Nations? You can ask our three CHOICErs Lewis, Lisa and Myra who traveled off to New York by the end of January to attend the sixth edition of the United Nations ECOSOC Youth Forum. The goal of this Youth Forum? To bring together governments, civil society and young leaders to talk about the importance of youth engagement in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
If we want the Sustainable Development Goals to succeed, we need to listen to young people’s voices. They need to be able to participate meaningfully in all the processes of drafting, implementing and reviewing governments’ strategies. This is why CHOICE was present at the Youth Forum, to advocate for meaningful youth participation and to stress the importance of young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.
This year was the biggest edition of the ECOSOC Youth Forum ever, with nearly 900 attendees from all over the world. The focus this year was on ‘the role of youth in eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world’, perfectly aligned with the theme of the High-Level Political Forum this July.
One day prior to the Youth Forum our CHOICErs attended and participated in an entertaining and energizing Youth Blast, organized by the Major Group for Children and Youth. During this Youth Blast, participants were able to prepare for the following days and received a quick background to ECOSOC and the Youth Forum. CHOICE facilitated an interactive session about the various SDGs and explained how we, as young people, are connected to them.
Our CHOICEr Lisa was given the opportunity to take place in a panel during a breakout session on gender equality. She gave a statement on the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights and how access to those rights impacts all aspects of a person’s life, especially young people. She also stressed that delegations of member states should have a young person in their delegation. Youth delegates function as an essential link between young people’s wishes and high-level politics, and without them, it’s much harder for young people to express what they think is important.
Although the Youth Forum was aimed at youth, our CHOICErs noticed that there was only a limited space for young people to actually have their say. Many government officials spoke about their country’s successes with youth consultation, but didn’t address the situations in which youth engagement still needs work. However, it was great to see how all young people present worked hard in their limited spaces. They asked critical questions, tried to be as vocal as they could and made themselves heard.
Our CHOICErs also spoke to government officials from Norway, Denmark, Indonesia, Kenya, Zambia and India to stress how important it is to include young people in their decisions, but also to inventorize how well these countries are doing in the field of SRHR. Especially since recent events, (e.g. the Global Gag Rule, rise of conservative politics in Europe), CHOICE feels the responsibility to urge governments to use their position in international negotiations to keep advancing SRHR.
As always, our CHOICErs also met many interesting young people to collaborate with in the future. Their power and energy motivates us to keep fighting for youth engagement! We are very proud of the hard work of our CHOICErs, putting SRHR and youth participation on the agenda. We will be present at the ECOSOC Youth Forum again next year, but we would surely love to see more space for actual youth engagement and more youth delegates.