Youth participation – April 28 2021

Young people share challenges and ideas with UN and government representatives

A group of 28 young people from SOS Children’s Villages programmes around the world took part in the annual United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum in early April. Their participation in the debates with UN and government representatives gave visibility to the realities of children who are in alternative care or whose families face difficulties.

The youth delegates from SOS Children’s Villages programmes in Albania, Belarus, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Croatia, Jordan, Kosovo, Liberia, Nicaragua and North Macedonia joined over 19,000 young people from over 190 countries in the virtual forum that took place from 7 to 8 April.

The ECOSOC Youth Forum provides a platform for dialogue between United Nations member states and young people. This includes representatives of foreign affairs, social and family affairs ministries, of agencies for international cooperation, and development and UN agencies.

“This Forum allows us to meet with representatives of youth-led and youth-focused organizations and networks and youth advocates to discuss with the UN Member States how we can promote and develop our society,” explains Heba, 22, from Jordan on her motivation to take part in the Forum.

The debates focused on the impact and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic linking to economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development and achieving the 2030 Agenda. Outcomes of debates directly feed into the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July.

Young people initiate solutions despite their lives being turned upside down

Discussions made it clear that the pandemic and related measures largely affected young people in different areas of their lives. This includes challenges to continue an education, finding employment as well as negative effects on their physical and mental health.

Access to digital tools including for skills training and education, increased levels of poverty and gender-based violence and less access to sexual and reproductive health and rights services were other issues discussed, linking to the pandemic.

“We, the youth, can no longer remain just hopeful that things are going to get better while our world is being eroded by climate change, epidemics, a pandemic, poverty, hunger, war, rape, drug abuse, domestic violence, poor health, etc. I know that young people are a considerable portion of the world’s population. Therefore, we need to be given the opportunity to stand up and speak out on issues affecting our future,” says Wilmot, 22, from Liberia.

The realities shared by youth from around the world made it clear that pre-existing inequalities are growing. However, experiences of young people’s innovative initiatives and youth advocacy proposing sustainable solutions to key challenges such as climate change and gender gaps showed the need to further support and promote youth participation.

“These international meetings give us motivation and inspire us to continue working for the rights of young people and exploring new opportunities for an independent and quality life,” says Radica, 18, from Kosovo.


Intergenerational dialogue for solutions that work

The ECOSOC Youth Forum is also unique in that it promotes intergenerational dialogue. Speakers called for further intergenerational dialogues, including youth from the outset in dialogues about policymaking affecting their lives. This should include making young people from marginalized groups heard and include youth in initiatives for economic and social recovery.

Moreover, young people were eager to learn from each other’s ideas and experiences.

"The Forum was very useful for me, because I gained some insights and new knowledge and ideas from other young people all over the world. The testimonies and stories of practice examples were eye opening and inspiring. Reponses focused on people and leaving no youth behind,” says Dunja, 18 from Croatia, summarizing her experience.

However, young people also noted that connectivity issues and opportunities to engage in sessions should still be further improved to ensure meaningful youth participation in multilateral dialogue and events such as the ECOSOC Youth Forum.

Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, one of the conveners of the ECOSOC Youth Forum, noted that it was the largest, most inclusive and diverse gathering of young people ever at the United Nations. She noted that the debates should also aim to hold decision makers accountable for their promises, which will continue to impact generations for years to come.

The Forum also saw the launch of the Youth2030 Progress Report 2021. The progress report provides an update on the implementation of the UN Youth Strategy. The self-reported data, based on 33 UN entities and 130 UN country teams, shows the UN's progress working on issues affecting young people. However, progress has to be made on directly including and working with young people.