2019 UN Youth Forum Calls for Greater Access to Education, Decision Making

By ANA MARIA LEBADA

Youth participants from around the world interacted with policymakers and decision makers on young people’s challenges, potential, and needs during the 2019 Youth Forum of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Curbing unemployment, poverty, and illiteracy were among the most pressing challenges identified. Youth participants and ministers of youth highlighted successful initiatives and national strategies that address them.

The 2019 ECOSOC Youth Forum took place from 8-9 April 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on the theme, ‘Empowered, Included, and Equal.’ The event was structured in both plenary and breakout sessions on regional priorities and the SDGs to be reviewed by the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) in July 2019: SDG 4 (quality education); SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth); SDG 10 (reduced inequalities); SDG 13 (climate action); and SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

According to data published by the UN on the occasion of the Forum, the 1.8 billion young people “drive” the SDGs:

  • SDG 1 (no poverty): the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that in 2017, an estimated 16.7% of employed youth in emerging economies/developing countries earned less than USD 1.90 per day.
  • SDG 2 (zero hunger): the World Food Programme (WFP) mentioned that every USD 1 invested in school meals programmes brings a USD 3-USD 10 economic return from improved health, education, and productivity.
  • SDG 3 (good health and well-being): the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted that adolescent girls are disproportionately affected by HIV, accounting for nearly two thirds of all new HIV infections among adolescents.
  • SDG 4: the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) data show that 750 million adults (two-thirds of whom are women) remain illiterate.
  • SDG 5 (gender equality): ILO data reflect that young women earn around 22% less than young men, mainly because childcare and other household responsibilities interfere with them taking on higher paying tasks.
  • SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation): the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF revealed that 12% of schools have limited sanitation services.
  • SDG 8: ILO data show that youth comprise 40% of the 202 million unemployed people globally.
  • SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure): the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) noted that youth represent almost one-fourth of all individuals using the Internet worldwide.
  • SDG 10: the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) reported that the net income of combined social assistance and housing benefits is systematically lower for 20-year-olds than for the average recipient.
  • SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities): the UN Development Programme (UNDP) announced that by 2050, 66% of the world’s population will live in cities, which will make job creation “critical” for 73 million unemployed youth.
  • SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production): if current consumption/production patterns continue, by 2050 the world will need the equivalent of almost three planets worth of resources to sustain the current way of living.
  • SDG 13: UNDP said almost half a million youth globally have taken action on climate change.
  • SDG 16: WHO noted that, globally, nearly one in three adolescent girls aged 15-19 years has been a victim of emotional, physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by their husband or partner.

Against this backdrop, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), called for “truly” inclusive intergenerational action to unleash the economic potential of “climate-smart” action, which is estimated at USD 26 trillion by 2030. She also emphasized the need for “more jobs, better jobs, and greener jobs” for youth.


Engaging youth globally is essential for the well‑being of the entire world.


Jayathma Wickramanayake, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, mentioned that the UN Secretary-General had identified youth mobilization as one of the priorities for his 2019 Climate Action Summit and called on world leaders to “come with a plan” instead of a speech. She emphasized that the inputs of young people are “especially important” in the UN reform process. She further mentioned that young Rohingya refugees have shown that, despite trying circumstances, “young people are the motor of keeping life going, no matter what.”

Yolanda Joab, Founder and Executive Director of Island PRIDE (Promoting Resilience through Involvement, Development and Education), said decisions at the HLPF and the Climate Action Summit must increase space for young people to participate in decision making at all levels, particularly those from the Pacific, “as one cannot talk about climate change without talking with those affected by it first.”

During an interactive roundtable on means of implementation, Carlos do Canto Monteiro, Deputy Minister for Youth, Cabo Verde, stressed the importance of supporting youth through entrepreneurship, training, internships, and educational reform. He gave the example of Cabo Verde, where the government reserves USD 6 million annually for youth projects and USD 1 million for professional training, and provides 60% of salaries to the country’s internship programme. In addition, he noted, 20% of the national budget is allocated to education, with Cabo Verde ensuring subsidized and free preschool education access through 12th grade.

Guillermo Rafael Santiago Rodríguez, Director General, Institute of Youth, Mexico, described a USD 2 billion training programme in partnership with Microsoft geared at ensuring that 120,000 people are equipped with technology skills, as well as Mexico’s efforts to open 100 universities in remote areas. Curtis Perry Okudzeto, Deputy Minister for Youth and Sports, Ghana, presented a “skills corps” project that offers job training to 1 million youth. Igor Zhdanov, Minister for Youth and Sports, Ukraine, spoke about the ‘Ukrainian Pact for Youth: 2020,’ a platform for dialogue on youth unemployment that unites 120 companies from all regions of the country, creating 32,000 new internships and jobs, as well as 600 partnerships with the educational sector.

Nasser Al-Sheikh, Ministry of State for Youth Affairs, Kuwait, emphasized the key role of data in updating youth policies. Layne Robinson, the Commonwealth Secretariat, called for intergovernmental organizations to provide context‑specific training programmes for government officials to ensure that everyone working with youth is equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary for the SDGs’ advancement. Yavuz Selim Kiran, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Turkey, proposed the establishment of a UN youth institution, extending Turkey’s offer to host it.

During a roundtable discussion on the HLPF (also described as ‘SDG Summit’) to be held under UNGA auspices in September 2019, Sheila Gweneth Carey, co-facilitator for the political declaration of the SDG Summit and Permanent Representative of the Bahamas, invited Youth Forum participants to share their expectations for the Summit. Issues highlighted by youth included the need to ensure: the rights and participation of indigenous youth in SDG implementation; women’s access to reproductive health and education; the inclusion of migrant youth in educational systems; training for young people focused on providing them with the required skills to adapt to the changing labor markets; the involvement of young people in public-private partnerships (PPPs); and active engagement of youth in policy making.

Delivering closing remarks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged that the UN will work with youth to deliver on youth’s hopes. He said young people are a “lightning rod” for change, as they show the courage and persistence that is often lacking among older generations. “Because it is your future, your livelihoods, your freedom, your security, your environment,” Guterres urged, “you must not take no for an answer.” He highlighted that, through the UN Youth Strategy launched in September 2018, the UN aims to increase action to address the needs, build the agency, and advance the rights of youth. He further invited participants in the Youth Forum to engage in the Youth Day taking place before the Climate Action Summit in September 2019.

If we are to achieve the SDGs, the UN Secretary-General stressed, governments, civil society, and international partners must scale up their investments in young people, ensuring they are “educated, empowered and employed.” He further emphasized that engaging youth globally “is essential for the well‑being of the entire world.”

Guterres closed the meeting by mentioning that the key messages and outcomes of the Youth Forum will be shared with decision makers and policymakers in the series of meetings aimed at catalyzing greater ambition and action to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The high-level meetings that will take place in September 2019 in New York include the Climate Action Summit (23 September), the SDG Summit (24-25 September) and the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development (FfD) (26 September).

Source SDG – IISD

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