More than 200 youth leaders from across Asia and the Pacific called for their governments and the international community to ensure free and safe ‘spaces’ where young people can meaningfully engage with national and global decision-making processes, with a strong focus on the principles of diversity and inclusion.
Young people continue to face marginalization and discrimination in speaking out on national issues that affect them and their future, and want to be treated as equal partners at the decision-making table, a joint statement released at the end of a three-day youth forum in Thailand noted.
Jointly hosted by a number of leading UN agencies and civil society organisations, the forum titled, #Case4Space: Youth at the Heart of the SDGs, saw vibrant discussions on the trend of shrinking ‘civic space’ both online and offline in the region, poor rates of parliamentary representation for youth, and the lack of voice in society that underlies the commonly voiced notion of young people as the ‘leaders of tomorrow.’
“This statement is not just important in terms of what it says; it was a youth-led collaboration that offered a space for all the voices we heard at this forum – which is exactly what we need national and global development policies to do, if we truly believe in sustainable and inclusive development,” said Cao Thi Thu Ha, from the 2030 Youth Force in Viet Nam, and an author of the statement.
Key points featured in the Statement include:
- Youth participation should go beyond traditional civic activities such as voting, volunteering and being consulted, to embrace genuine spaces for political action and power-sharing, such as co-ownership of agendas, crowdsourcing of legislation and citizen generated data for monitoring and accountability.
- Governments should be encouraged to promote independent youth participation structures that are not aligned to political parties and are open and transparent (hyperlink: see youth statement)
Shamshad Akhtar, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary, emphasized the integral role that youth will play in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“We count on the bright, energetic, dynamic pool of youth across our vast and diverse region to help us in awareness-raising and advocacy of the sustainable development agenda and associated goals,” she said. “Your ability to adopt and adapt will change not only your destiny, but everyone else's destiny and our world at large.”
Dana Choi, a youth activist from South Korea, who attended the event, said she was inspired by seeing so many other committed young people from all around Asia-Pacific, gathered together for progressive change in their respective societies.
‘We’re calling for strong partnerships among youth organizations in the Asia-Pacific Region, with support from the United Nations, so young people – no matter how disadvantaged, can have access to resources and education, peer-to-peer support, and opportunities to have their voices heard,” Ms Choi said.
Speaking to the young people gathered for the forum, UNESCO Bangkok Director Gwang-Jo Kim stressed the immense potential they held as the “largest generation of young people” in human history.
“You are the most educated, the most connected, the most widely travelled, the most outspoken young generation the world has known. You are the first generation that can bring education to all, stop climate change and end extreme poverty,” he said. “So let me invite you to seize every opportunity to empower yourselves and engage in public debates toward a world that is more just, peaceful, tolerant and inclusive.”
He also reiterated how the themes of the event resonate with UNESCO’s mandate to promote the “free flow of ideas by word and image”. “The organization is committed to make a case for space for young generations to foster freedom of expression, and to protect online freedom and safety,” he said.
Caitlin Wiesen, Chief of UNDP’s Regional Policy and Programme Support for Asia and the Pacific noted that managing physical and virtual civic spaces is one of the greatest challenges facing policymakers and communities throughout the region, while also stressing the central role that civil society plays in the Agenda for Sustainable Development. Target 17.17, for example, calls on all countries to “encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships.”
“Civil society and civic activists are an indispensable partner in building peaceful and inclusive societies,” Wiesen said. “To ensure that institutions are accountable, transparent, and inclusive it is imperative that civic space remains open and free. We need not only to help strengthen civil society’s capacities to deliver on the new SDGs, but to ensure that countries develop the right enabling environment for them to do so.”
The UNDP Youth Strategy 2014-2017, “Empowered Youth, Sustainable Future”, offers key entry points for systematic and coordinated action to support youth within an increasingly complex development context for their social, economic and political development. The Strategy recommends engaging a broad range of partners, including youth, and identifies strategic entry points for engagement.
Yoriko Yasukawa, UNFPA Regional Director of Asia and the Pacific Regional Office, said that young people will play a tremendous role in determining the success of the SDGs.
“It is clear that for positive development, the future depends on building the strengths and capacities of young people, especially adolescent girls, LGBTQ, people living with disability and migration activists, and others, who continue to face the struggles of marginalization,” said Yasukawa. “We in the UN acknowledge our vital role in supporting those who are oppressed or silenced, and the responsibility we bear in addressing sensitive and difficult issues by facilitating spaces such as these.”
The UNFPA has a strong cross-cutting commitment to youth empowerment and amplifying youth voice, not only in service of their mandate to support sexual and reproductive health rights, but also to support their goal of assuring that every young person is able to fulfill their full potential.
The three-day forum was hosted by UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNESCAP, Restless Development and Forum Asia.
For more on Case for Space, including stories produced by the forum’s youth newsroom, visit: Case4Space.org