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Navigating nerves, excitement and responsibility in youth advocacy

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8 May 2024 Tags: Cotonou Youth Action Agenda, CPD57, ICPD30, MIYP

For the past four months, Sara Bahgat has been the Youth Ambassador for SRHR, Gender Equality, and Bodily Autonomy in the Netherlands, contracted by the Dutch Ministry alongside her studies. The position involves a lot of travel – in April, she went to Benin for the Global Youth Dialogue, and she has just returned from a week in New York for the United Nations Commission on Population and Development 57th session (CPD57) in New York. Alongside fellow advocates, she reflects on her experience navigating the CPD as a youth advocate amplifying the voices of young people around the world.

Sara SRHR Youth Ambassador

“Being a Youth Ambassador is fantastic, but it also comes with a lot of pressure. I have the role of speaking for young people in the Netherlands – but can I truly represent such a big and diverse group of people?”

Unlike at the Global Youth Dialogue, young people are a very small minority at the CPD in New York. Unlike Sara, who is part of her country’s delegation, most of the young people are part of civil society organisations. “By the end of the week, I’m pretty sure I’ve met them all. I want that to change,” she says. “With 1.9 billion young people worldwide, we should be much more involved, especially when it is about our rights, bodies and futures. 

“With 1.9 billion young people worldwide, we should be much more involved, especially when it is about our rights, bodies and futures.”
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Myriam Skhiri

Speaking on behalf of millions

With such little representation, speaking on behalf of a large, non-homogeneous group is a pressure felt by Myriam Skhiri as well. She is the only young person from Tunisia at the CPD. She fluctuates between feeling privileged and honoured, and feeling doubtful. “It would be much better if there were young people from different backgrounds and people with disabilities, for example. Have I consulted enough of them to speak on their behalf?”  

Getting young people involved in international advocacy is important, but it’s just as crucial that they feel confident speaking up for the people they represent. The Global Youth Dialogue in Benin has been instrumental for Sara in this aspect. It provided her with a platform to voice her opinions and reinforced her belief that many youth advocates resonate with her perspectives on issues affecting their communities. This underscored the importance of creating spaces where young advocates can not only participate but also lead discussions. 

Hanna

Influencing policy in complex settings

“Why do we not see our recommendations from Benin back at CPD?” wonders Hanna Mulugeta from Ethiopia, a youth advocate from the Right Here Right Now programme. Hanna was one of the 400 youth delegates at the Global Youth Dialogue in Benin, a consultation organised by UNFPA and co-hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Denmark and Benin. The two-day dialogue resulted in an eight-page Action Agenda with recommendations to place young people’s needs and SRHR central on the agenda of CPD.  

Danielle Engel, Global Team Lead Adolescents and Youth at UNFPA, is thrilled with the Action agenda itself. “The overwhelming response of over 14,000 young people from around the world applying for the Global Youth Dialogue inspires hope for the future of the ICPD. It underscores the enduring relevance of the ICPD as more than just letters for today’s youth but as a dynamic action agenda, as pertinent now as it was three decades ago. Amidst a world often fraught with division, moments of collective unity, like this Action Agenda crafted by 400 youth, shine as beacons of hope. Their swift consensus on progressive recommendations within two days stands as a remarkable feat, showcasing the potent force of youth-led action. The world needs to take notice – and it does – we received requests to receive the Agenda from government officials all around the world. And the CPD side-event, where we presented these recommendations to member states, was packed and brimmed with excitement.” 

“There is no such thing as too much support"

Guidance for youth participation in international and national spaces is crucial for ensuring that young people can contribute meaningfully. This guidance includes providing the right contacts within relevant organisations, explaining complex UN structures and procedures, helping them prepare statements, and offering mentorship throughout their advocacy journey. Myriam: “I’ve been to the CPD before, I received a lot of support but I still felt quite overwhelmed and confused.” Hanna: “I don’t think there is such thing as too much support. If I happen to be at the next CPD I would like to take a role in helping new youth advocates to move forward together.” 

Experience can make a significant difference. For Sara, every trip and consultation is a new experience and a learning curve. “Because I was appointed by my Ministry, which strongly supports youth advocacy, I received the opportunity to speak during the UN general debate, only a few months after my appointment. Nerve-wracking but incredibly exciting!” 

Daniella underscores the significance of institutionalising youth participation as a norm. “Youth participation in the UN is growing, but true inclusion remains a challenge. We need more than token representation. Young people can and should lead, as seen with the Cotonou Youth Action Agenda. At UNFPA, we’ll support their advocacy and provide guidance for effective campaigns. The journey to improve sexual health and rights for young people continues. They deserve recognition and sustainable financing for their efforts. Let’s give them the time and resources to make a real difference.”

“They deserve recognition and sustainable financing for their efforts. Let's give them the time and resources to make a real difference.”
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