There were 1.2 billion youth aged 15-24 years globally in 2015, accounting for one out of every six people worldwide[i]. By 2030, the target date for the sustainable development goals, the number of youth is projected to have grown by 7 per cent, to nearly 1.3 billion. Young women and young men are more connected, more aware and are taking action to transform their societies, yet many are left behind and neglected. It recognizes that both young men and women today possess extraordinary potential to positively transform their communities.
When considering the sustainable development goals, it is young people who can decisively tilt our future toward greater sustainable development, peace, and security. Young women and girls, in particular, are central to global development. Of the global youth population, about 600 million are adolescent girls and young women[ii].
Investing in young women’s and girls’ education and healthcare, preventing violence against young women and girls, politically and economically empowering young women and girls, protecting the human rights of young women and girls and recruiting young men and boys as allies in the cause of gender equality and empowerment are the ultimate pathways to global development in the 21st century.
Some countries are struggling currently to educate and employ their young people, while also anticipating substantial growth in the number of youth. The next youth bulge is expected in Africa. This demographic “youth bulge” provides a unique window of opportunity in which youth globally can be engaged in creating a more sustainable, just and equitable world. Agenda 2030 calls upon youth to partner in realisation of all 17 SDGs. The role of social media, which has proven to be a powerful instrument in the hands of youth, has a critical role in bringing about democracy. The global refugee crisis, displacement, climate crisis and violence can become major challenges in advancement of youth. These countries will be doubly challenged in their efforts to assure universal high-quality education, productive employment and decent work for all and at the same time have an opportunity to work with youth as productive resources for national development.
This article makes case for a Global Call for Braga+20, Braga Youth Action Plan[iii] (1998)
The plan was adopted at the Third World Youth Forum of the United Nations System, held at Braga, Portugal, August 2-7, 1998. The Plan presents principles for youth participation and, to this end, recommends policies for cooperation between governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), United Nations. It is time to revisit the same in light of above youth bulge.
1998 goes down in history as a watershed World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth in Lisbon of 146 States that committed their governments to placing national youth policy formulation, implementation, follow-up processes and funding at the highest political level. The
“Lisbon Declaration on Youth Policies and Programmes [iv]“,
committed nations and the international community to taking actions in areas such as youth participation, development, peace, education, employment, health, and drug and substance abuse. In other action, the Conference proposed the proclamation of 12 August as an international youth day.
Key recommendations at Braga included recommendations that called on the United Nations to appoint a special rapporteur on youth to help advance youth participation, and for the elaboration of a convention on the rights of youth.
The United Nations was urged to address youth participation in political leadership. The ministers committed their governments to implement the measures and foster further implementation of the World Programme of Action[v] with the active participation of youth, ensuring that the unique perspective of young people was reflected in national policies and programmes.
Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, [vi] also addressing the Conference convened by his Government in cooperation with the United Nations, said youth policies must focus on the objective of creating the conditions for full citizenship for young people that allowed them to take part in all aspects of political and social life. The voices of young people must be heard, and they must be supported in expressing the values relevant to their lives at the global level.
Braga inspired action on promoting youth participation. Participation is a fundamental right[vii]. Through active participation, young people are empowered to play a vital role in their own development as well as in that of their communities, helping them to learn vital life-skills, develop knowledge on human rights and citizenship and to promote positive civic action. To participate effectively, young people must be given the proper tools, such as information, education about and access to their civil rights.
The UN has long recognized that young people are a major human resource for development and key agents for social change, economic growth and technological innovation. Participation in decision-making is a key priority area of the UN agenda on youth.
“…The United Nations is doing a considerable amount to invest in youth. We are acquiring knowledge and best practices about the issues affecting young people today. And we are making greater efforts to engage youth in our negotiating and decision-making processes. Still, I do not think we have gone nearly far enough…”
– former Secretary-General, H.E. Ban Ki-Moon, Remarks to General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Youth, 2011
In addition the former Secretary-General’s Five-Year Action Agenda in his 2nd Term priorities clearly made commitment to boost Youth agenda in the UN system. He stated, “…Address the needs of the largest generation of young people the world has ever known by deepening the youth focus of existing programmes on employment, entrepreneurship, political inclusion, citizenship and protection of rights, and education, including on reproductive health. To help advance this agenda, the UN system will develop and implement an action plan, create a youth volunteer programme under the umbrella of the UN Volunteers and appoint a new Special Adviser for Youth”
In 2011, UN Habitat’s flagship report Youth 21 – Youth engagement in the UN System[viii], concluded
“the UN has historically worked to engage youth with a number of UN agencies working independently and across the agency to address key issues that impact the lives of youth globally. Yet, though there have been many policy statements made that reference the need to engage youth more meaningfully within the UN system, these have remained on paper”
amongst another issues called for the creating on SG’s Special Representative of the Secretary General on Youth. This was presented to SG and contributed in creation of the SG’s Envoy on Youth.
The last five years since the General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Youth, 2011[ix] has seen major development. The expansion of the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development (IANYD[x]) (a network consisting of UN entities, aim to increase the effectiveness of UN work in youth development). It works across the UN system to develop the UN System Wide Action Plan on Youth[xi].
Further, the former SG created Secretary-General’s Envoy[xii] on Youth, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth Refugees and Sport[xiii] and SG’s Special Envoy on Youth Employment[xiv]. Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth[xv] led to furthering of youth issues in the last 3 years. UNDP[xvi], UNV[xvii] and UN Women[xviii] developed their respective youth strategies to advance young women and young men’s development in light of agenda 2030.
ILO with other members of the UN system has been tasked to facilitate the Global Initiatives on Decent[xix] jobs initiatives. One breakthrough was marked by the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2250. Through the unanimous adoption of resolution 2250[xx] (2015), which defined youth as persons aged 18 through 29, the Council urged Member States to consider setting up mechanisms that would enable young people to participate meaningfully in peace processes and dispute resolution.
Other significant developments include: The first Youth Forum at the UN Commission for Status of Women in 2016[xxi]. The Human Rights Council decided to establish the first forum on human rights, democracy and rule of law[xxii]. The first Global Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action was adopted at the World Humanitarian Summit[xxiii].
Whilst, the above developments have moved youth agenda to a certain level, yet many issues agreed in Braga are far from a reality. The world still does not have a clear agreement on a Youth Rights[xxiv], though we have regional agreements such as Africa Youth Charter[xxv] and Ibero-American Convention on Youth Rights[xxvi], we are yet to agree on Braga’s call on youth rights. Braga’s call to financial institutions to give greater support to national youth policies and programmes within their country programmes is far from reality. Y
outh issues are highly under-resourced and financing of youth agenda remains a huge challenge. The UN system wide action plan on youth is yet to be adequately resourced, though we have some positive signs such as UN Habitat’s Urban Youth Fund[xxvii] supporting youth led organisations but these needs to be scaled up and supported at the UN level.
Agenda 2030 calls young women and men as critical agents of change and calls upon them to channel their infinite capacities for activism into the creation of a better world[xxviii]. For this to happen, the world leaders and youth need to come together to discuss, agree, advance and act with adequate investments in youth development that were called for in 1998, in Braga.
In order to be able to fulfill our commitments to the most marginalized young women and young men. We need to ensure a strong gender and diversity perspective, thereby respecting the intersectionality and heterogeneity in the global youth community. It is important that the UN system should be further strengthened and supported in advancing the core goals of the World Programme on Action for Youth; and ensuring active and inclusive participation of young people in localization and implementation of Agenda 2030.
In order for us to successfully move forward, we need the highest political commitment by convening the Braga +20, a global leaders summit to reaffirm our commitment to young women and young men, in sync with Agenda 2030. Finally, all the above need serious financial support; thereby calling for financing of youth development by harmonizing by various streams of the existing youth aid architecture, by bringing together financial institutions government funding and philanthropic giving to systematically invest in youth development.
[ii] UNFPA, The State of the World’s Population 2014, “The Power of 1.8 Billion – Adolescents, Youth and the Transformation of the Future”, UNFPA, 2014.
[ix] General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Youth, 2011