Blog Post- What it means to represent youth?

What Does it Mean to Represent Youth?

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Youth representation during informal negotiations at the UN Geneva

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Claiming to represent more than half the world’s population doesn’t just seem difficult, it sounds flat-out ridiculous. However, that is exactly what we are trying to do. Young people are usually shut out of politics, but an increasing number of international processes involve a multitude of stakeholders, including children and youth. Spaces like the UN Major Group for Children and Youth allow for young people to mobilize and organize their own representation and participation in these processes, to take active part in international decision-making.

But of course representing over 3.5 billion young people is more than a small challenge. How do you ensure that every need and priority of the different age groups, different regions, and different contexts are represented? How do you actually know what those needs and priorities are? And who gets to speak on behalf of children and youth during the political process? Well, the representation of young people globally is not easy. A democratic process, transparency and accountability are very important values within the constituency and its youth-leadership.

Firstly, the major group space for children and youth is open to anyone. For the sake of definition of “youth”, the UN Major Group for Children and Youth sets the limit as 30 years and under. Youth-led organizations and organizations with a mandate to work with youth can join the space as well. A transparent structure and open communication facilitates the participation of members. Working groups, email lists,

assembly calls and social media make it possible to work with a large number of young people located in different parts of the world. Priorities are identified by consulting all members, from all regions and backgrounds. Drafts for policy work, speeches and statements are shared with the entire constituency, which can give feedback, suggest changes and help with promotion. Constant networking and the involvement of regional and global youth organizations help to reach new groups and communities. The whole space is facilitated by a number of Organizing Partners, who are young volunteers elected through an open process.

Not all problems are easily solved, however. How to deal with active members spread across all time zones? How to treat “self-promoters”, who use the space only to advance their own agenda as opposed to contributing to youth representation? How to implement consensus based decision-making? On a case-by-case basis, members and volunteer leadership invest a lot of their free time (and often give up sleep) to help make the constituency as efficient and active as possible.

In the end, what does this work for youth representation achieve? The UN Major Group for Children and Youth, for example, is not actually building anything, so why do so many young people invest so much of their free time? Well, the outcomes of the youth-led efforts speak for themselves. In the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, for example, an entire paragraph on youth as capable actors of change was adopted ad referendum. But the contributions aren’t limited to our own role, young people have determined their priorities and have pushed for their inclusion within the text, through active lobbying, participation in negotiations, side events, and much more. These international frameworks include youth, not only highlighting their importance, but also when it comes to the content and the preparatory process.

The idea is catching on: more and more processes and projects include active and mandated youth representation as one of the stakeholders. The World Humanitarian Summit, for example, recognizes the importance of strong youth representation. The aim is to keep going and inspire – inspire the international scene to make youth permanent members of decision-making processes, inspire agencies to consult with youth directly, inspire governments to include youth in decision-making, and most importantly inspire young people across the world to become more active, organize and mobilize and participate directly as advocates for youth in politics.

This entry was written by Marie Luise Schwarzenberg (Graduate Degree Candidate at Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, affiliated with the organization Youth Beyond Disasters), with support from Anna-Theresia Ekman (International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations – Sweden VPE), both active members of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth

Photo credit: Marie Luise Schwarzenberg

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