It is unusual to see a young person in a political meeting or a round of negotiations. If a person in their early 20s is present, chances are high that he or she is an intern, sitting in the back of the room, working for free, without speaking rights. However, the numbers could not be clearer: at the beginning of 2012, the world’s population reached 7 billion, with more than half of that being people under 30. The lack of young persons in regional, national and international politics shows a huge disconnect between constituencies and their representation in decision- making. In an international setting, conventions and frameworks between countries are developed without consulting half of the people they concern and have an impact on. Fortunately, this is changing: young people are represented more and more in international processes. Since the Earth Summit in 1992 and the realization that sustainable development could not be achieved by governments alone, civil society has started to play an increasingly important role within the United Nations. The UN Major Group system most actively, but also other outlets, are finally giving a mandated space to children and youth, who are organizing and leading their own representation. The structure and attitude towards youth policy and action also has an influence on the constituency: changing a predominant image of vulnerability to a mentality of mobilization and action.
And here is the link to humanitarian action – children, teenagers and young adults are often the most vulnerable in times of conflict and disaster, and their needs have to be adequately represented. But technology and new ways of mass communication make it easier for youth to mobilize and start taking actions on their own. Recent history shows an important increase in youth activism, and even in the field of humanitarian action we see more youth-led projects and organizations than before, despite a lack of support from most governments. Many of these initiatives are not coordinated. For example, on the occasion of the UN World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction, during the linked Children & Youth Forum, two young individuals working in disaster response in Christchurch, New Zealand, met for the first time. They were active in the same city, working on the same issue, but had never heard of each other’s projects. We believe that more coordination and support for local and regional youth-led projects and organizations can help improve humanitarian action drastically. Young people have crucial tools of mobilization and networking at the tips of their fingers. But youth leadership for the development of opportunities and perspectives for others to engage in humanitarian action and not in crime and radicalism are also factors that should not be disregarded. The World Humanitarian Summit aims to examine how the needs of people affected by disaster and conflict can be better met. The youth-led representation of the younger generation, half the world’s population, aims not only to consult and engage every young person in the discussion, but also to connect all youth active in humanitarian action. The goal during the process, including the Global Youth Consultation, but also all other parts along the way to Istanbul, is to find innovative solutions for how youth can work better together with all other stakeholders and actors, to help improve humanitarian action in each community. Young people are informed and concerned actors in humanitarian action, who advocate for change in their communities, countries and regions. We matter, and we are at the right place to propose solutions and contribute to an agenda for the future of humanitarian action in an ever-changing world. 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 YouthPhoto credit: Nhattan Nguyen