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Listening to Youth Voices in Post-2015
It’s time that young people were talked to and not talked about. It struck me even more clearly when I was a meeting of young activists in Hong Kong recently. A friend and colleague put it perfectly when he said that he was tired of filling a "tickbox quota"—sick of being chosen to speak simply because conference organizers needed a young person who was from the Global South. Reinforcing meaningful engagement with young people means going further than just a token speaking slot.
We need to hear their concerns and ideas. This may mean we need to think outside the box and shake up our advocacy model. This could simply start with de-jargoning and de-acronym-ing everything! We need to re-think how we consult and reach out to young people in different parts of the world. I take for granted my computer in an office with fast and reliable Internet connection, but not all of these things are enjoyed by the colleagues and partners we work with—and we need to remember that.
When we met in Hong Kong, we all came with different experiences and causes, but we were all united in our passion and aim to get young people’s voices heard in decision-making. As part of our united strategy, the meeting focused on un-packing the post-2015 development framework—what it means and why it is important to young people.
Why Is It Important?
The post-2015 development framework should build on the gains made from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which saw the world pull together to make impressive strides in reducing extreme poverty. What happens next has the potential to deliver the transformative social change the world needs to end poverty and deliver justice and equality.
Nearly half of the world is under the age of 25, which means young people will inherit the post-2015 framework and be the primary implementers of it. Based on its success or failure, we will design, negotiate, and carry out what follows.
Youth ideas and priorities must be reflected to ensure it has the largest and most effective impact on people’s lives. As sexual and reproductive health and rights advocates, this is of paramount importance. Of all the MDGs, the on improving maternal health is the most off track. The target for universal access to reproductive health is also faring badly.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights are important to young people for many reasons. Increasing access to sexual and reproductive health services—such as contraception—can avert unintended pregnancies and reduce the incidence of unsafe abortion. Eighteen million girls under 19 years old give birth every year, and complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death among girls this age.
The World Bank reports that delaying pregnancy means young girls are more likely to stay in school longer and acquire more skills—therefore, increasing their economic and employment opportunities. Getting young people’s right to sexual and reproductive health into the post-2015 agenda is critical to ensuring our quality of life and well-being.
What We Started
One thing we discussed in Hong Kong was ways of working together to ensure a loud and coherent youth voice is heard amidst an often inaccessible and unfriendly space. We mapped out key milestones to administer youth influence and discussed different strategies to do so. I hope this meeting is the starting force that we can build on as the post-2015 efforts ramp up in the coming months through meetings at the United Nations.
My Role As An Advocate
With so much of the post-2015 process unknown after September 2014, I see my role as a facilitator of the participation of activists who do not have the same access as me. This is often those who work primarily at the national level. We need to be bolder and braver in our engagement with civil society.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is resolute that the post-2015 process should be led by Member States. But if we expect Member States to advance youth sexual and reproductive health and rights, they need to hear from their citizens. We need to work with and enable national advocates to ensure their national priorities and contexts are reflected in their governments’ positions in international negotiations. This means that most of the advocacy must be done prior to the negotiations in New York City.
It’s time that young people were talked to and not talked about. It’s time to lift the grassroots voices up to deliver a truly transformative post-2015 development agenda—a framework that is by the people, of the people, and for the people.