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International Youth Day – Too soon to celebrate?

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Another year, another International Youth Day, with the theme: “Youth Building Peace”. According to the UN, this global day – 12 August – serves to recognize the efforts young people make in enhancing global society, while promoting their participation in shaping global agenda.

Now, more than ever, youth have recognized their power, as much as governments have increasingly recognized the benefit of working with the youth – engaging them through official representation and in policy dialogues. But how far are we from a finish line, and what exactly is there to celebrate? Can this awareness day – and its heart of the matter, “youth”– go beyond mere symbolism?

The UN first proclaimed 1985 International Youth Year, recognizing the importance of the youth’s direct participation in all sectors of society “in shaping the future of mankind”. The word ‘youth’ was repeated 45 times in the historic two-page UN Resolution and 32 years later, youth have become as important as ever—or have they?

A decade after, youth participation in decision-making was made a priority through the adoption of the World Programme of Action for Youth, but it did not specify how this was supposed to be done. Another decade later – on the cusp of the social media and mobile technology boom – young people steadily moved away from engagement in formal structures (e.g. political parties) to form cause-oriented, self-organized activism. Offline or online, the participation of youth in civic and political space became more visible with increased connectivity and agility.

We are essentially at a juncture where the youth are thought to be as equal partners as their adult counterparts; with more attention and recognition given to their engagement, whether in business, development, human rights and – in rarer cases – politics. Despite significant improvement after three decades, youth participation hasn’t progressed at the speed it should have. If only there was a global indicator to determine how successful youth inclusion has been, because it’s the lack of one that indicates its failure.

In the face of progress, the world continues to grapple a silver bullet to the global youth’s problems. As Ban Ki-moon stated at the last General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Youth: “Still, I do not think we have gone nearly far enough.” Making sense of how to go about it could just be as important as answering what needs to be done – from here and now.

So why is it that we are not there yet?

There are two types of problems when it comes to youth. First, are the ‘problems of youth’, which point to problems like access to basic education, healthcare and gainful employment; ultimately policy and decision-making they face while being young. The other, much-bigger ‘youth problem’, where social perception and treatment towards young people is the by-product of the first problem. Until these two problems are tackled hand-in-hand, we may never get far.

‘Youth’ has become a theory of everyday reality that results in how they have been perceived and treated. Youth participation is often conditioned on their political, socio-economic and cultural environment. These norms are often the direct result of multiple forms of discrimination experience by young people in many parts of the world.

Young people have also been stereotyped by both government opinions and the media, framing what they should be (or rather fail to be) and what should be done with them. For instance, today’s popular rhetoric towards millennials in relation to politics has excessively been painted in harmful ways. Blanket assumptions about millennials’ political interests, voting behaviours, or lifestyle choices are too often made in the west and east. These could further distance young people (especially the younger millennials) in the midst of increased generational polarization.

Young people under the age of 25 make up 42% of the world population; in the Sub-Saharan Africa alone, over 70% of the population is under 30. However, according to IPU Report 2016, only 1.9% of 45,000 parliamentarians globally are aged below 30. While the average of MPs around the world is aged 53, rarely those under 35 make the cut. In most countries, politicians are still considered to be “young” if they are below 40 (14.2% total). Political representation of young women is even more worrying as many women face a double layer of inequality, owing to their young age and because they of their gender—let alone people with disabilities and those with disadvantaged and marginalized backgrounds.

While young people are often perceived as lacking professional experience, if the past decades have ever taught us anything, it is that diverse pools of young people have proven to be effective and competent. Many successful leaders notably in corporate sector, including in start-ups, are under 30.

Perhaps it is the rigid structure and traditional adult-centric approach to global politics that inhibits the world to accept and allow young people to fully participate. Perhaps this has become today’s unfortunate Catch-22, where young people have the proclivity to distance themselves from the inflexible structures, which in turn perpetuate the status-quo. Take the recent US election’s millennial voter turnout as a wild example.

Politics aside, there are other palpable reasons to why we are not yet there.

Youth is still largely seen as a socially-constructed process. Youth is commonly understood as a transition from childhood to adulthood often characterized by greater economic independence. They are believed to represent certain images, identities and opinions. In reality, youth are hardly ever homogenous. Different groups of young people have inherently different characteristics and represent diverse backgrounds, intersectional challenges and aspirations.

Age categorization is another clear demarcation between youth and adult. The definition of ‘youth’ as those between the ages of 15 and 24 – consistently applied across the United Nations and other global organizations – becomes indiscriminate as it does not account for those defined in different regions. In practice, how do we reconcile those aged 0-24 defined as youth in the Netherlands with those aged 15-34 under the same definition in Mozambique? Putting youth in an age bracket (and with national variance) effectively means imposing certain formal qualifications and prerogatives and embedding the exclusion of young people from formal processes within legislation and thus inhibiting an active participation.

This brings us to explore the nebulous concept of youth lies in their legal recognition – or rather lack thereof. Despite the global application of the age standard, “youth rights” have never been codified in international instruments with established universal standards. Achieving this could lead to young people’s agency being taken more seriously and with increased political legitimacy. These mechanisms could also pave the way for better recognition and protection of many rights engendered by shared and specific situations.

This raises the point that the de facto age categorization is problematic not only for the reason of exclusion, but also for the guarantee of rights and legal protection. The consideration for expanding the age bracket to account for regional characterizations and all their differences could be a vital step towards enhancing representation and increasing inclusion. Ultimately, this would create more space for young people to participate in governance, leadership and decision making, where diverse identities, socioeconomic, political, cultural and psychological realities of young people are accounted for and respected.

The global ‘problem of youth’ will first require global attention; youth participation should not be only about youth.

Existing global mechanisms for youth participation at the global level – the UN Youth Delegation Programme, UN Envoy on Youth, Major Group for Children and Youth, to name a few – are important stepping stones. Youth must be seen as equal contributors for change, both for themselves and the society at large. Youth advocacy must therefore go beyond tackling only youth-related issues but endeavour to create space where they can freely and actively engage left, right and centre.

Participation is a fundamental right. While active participation of young people in addressing issues affecting them is recognized, real inclusion can only be achieved when the roles young people play in response to the needs of billions of young people worldwide beyond a single age bracket are clearly articulated in a global policy framing and implementation, with necessary access and resources. With irony, this can only be realized when young people are involved in all areas of participation – especially in the processes that govern their own.

International Youth Day should be celebrated when policy and decision-makers have exploited young people’s skills and abilities –instead of placing them in the socially-constricted Millennial box.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not represent or reflect the views of Amnesty International)

Aanas Ali is rights-based development advocate currently consulting for International Labour Organization. He’s focused on labour rights, mixed migration, and youth advocacy through policy advocacy and public campaigning

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New Social Compact

Gender and Climate Change: Where are we and what next?

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credit: UN photo

Climate change affects women more profoundly than men. Often, women bear the brunt of extreme weather events because they lack economic, political and legal power, especially in developing countries.

Because of cultural barriers and their lower economic status, women often have fewer assets to fall back on than men. They are largely absent from decision-making because of unequal participation in leadership roles – further compounding their vulnerability. So when it comes to coping with climate change, women usually have fewer adaptive strategies than men.

The women who live in poor rural communities use natural resources in a different way than men because they possess fewer assets.  It is women, for example, who are responsible for collecting firewood, fetching water, growing food – or foraging for it – making them more vulnerable to the climatic changes that affect these resources.  So the international community must pay attention to gender dynamics when it develops climate change policies and puts them into action.

International recognition – where are we now?

International frameworks are beginning to incorporate a gender dimension into action on climate change. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emphasises gender balance and increased participation of women in its processes and in national delegations. It also calls for the development of gender responsive climate policies at all levels.

Gender is also getting more attention at climate change conferences.  In 2014, at COP20 in Lima, a Programme of Action on Gender was established ‘to advance implementation of gender-responsive climate policies’. The Paris Agreement of 2015 acknowledged the importance gender equality and empowerment of women in climate action. In 2017, COP23 established a Gender Action Plan.  So there is forward momentum.

And with developing countries calling for more money to address climate change, there is also an increasing emphasis on gender-responsive budgeting. The Green Climate Fund – the largest international fund for countering climate change – is shifting towards a more gender-sensitive approach and recently developed a Gender Policy and Action Plan.

The Commonwealth, gender and climate change

The Commonwealth has a long history of championing small states, women and young people.  In 2015, the Commonwealth Summit introduced a Women’s Forum to amplify the voice of women and raise key gender issues to leaders. Gender and climate change issues gained further momentum at the 2018 Summit in London, when heads of government committed to accelerating action to achieve targets under the Paris Agreement and the Women’s Forum called for the Commonwealth to take gender into account in addressing climate change.

Gender and climate change is one of four gender priorities of the Commonwealth.  That means the Commonwealth is shaping its work to reflect gender considerations.  However, more can be done to build on synergies and collaborate with partners to increase support to small and vulnerable states.

What next?

The urgency of climate change requires more progress at a greater pace. Increasing the participation and engagement of women in addressing it is a first and critical step.  I look forward to seeing progress and will follow discussions on the Gender Action Plan at COP24 in Poland later this week.  Even more important will be the first report on its implementation in 2019 because – as they say – the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Sharing experiences and learning from what is already happening is important in understanding gaps and challenges and in developing better responses and strategies, so I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. Are there challenges and lessons learned that you feel are important and that can shape the agenda moving forward, especially in the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth

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New Social Compact

Young Voices Program: Global Space for Youth Empowerment

Rattana Lao

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Young people matter. Not just because they can be powerful constituencies to recruit or consumers to develop. They matter in their own right and their growth is fundamental for the future stability and civilized success of societies, countries, and the world.

Unfortunately, a space for them to be themselves – to express and explore their own thoughts and to learn to articulate their own voices – is limited, especially on a global scale. Within the limited spaces available, most are politicized if not outright commercialized. Too often, youth have been used as vehicles for narcissistic adults, power-hungry politicians, and greedy conglomerates. In other words, around the globe grownups have maximized, exploited, and manipulated the power and potential of the young, all supposedly in the name of ‘youth.’

With seventeen years of experience in educational and youth empowerment projects in Thailand and Asia, I have witnessed how these exploitations take place. Politicians talk about the importance of education, but only in terms of gaining votes for themselves. Political transactions are not bad in and of themselves, if the votes can bring about better schooling, equal opportunities, and gender equity, just to name some rightful benefits. More often than not, however, these talks on education are shallow rhetoric that cease to impact reality after the votes have been dropped into the ballot boxes.

The commitment to education is there, don’t get me wrong. Countries spend billions of dollars on it. But the commitment for youth excellence, for the articulation of original youth analysis, is lacking. More space is needed for youth to express themselves, their concerns for their society, and debate the ideas openly and civilly. Elite schools have done this for centuries – bringing the best and brightest minds together in a room to debate and articulate their thoughts. But with the internet, online spaces have become critical in creating opportunity for youth dialogues and learning spaces. But now the online arena also carries with it dangers: we need to create spaces that provide enlarged, engaged, and equitable venues for youth to participate in the important issues of the day, without fear of retaliation, retribution, or politicization. More youth need to get involved in expressing their ideas on issues that matter to them, to truly become globally-engaged citizens now. This is not so much about a virtual ‘safe space’ as it is a declaration of creating virtual engaged spaces. These are too few and far between in today’s world.

Thus, increasing quality online courses make quality learning fairer and more accessible to youth worldwide. This is why we propose the creation of an online platform on Modern Diplomacy, one of the most vibrant e-magazines in Europe, with massive followers far beyond it. This MD platform believes in the freedom of expression and sharing of ideas. It will allow youth – students across the world in all types of institutions – to not just share their ideas but have opportunities to engage with their own readers, creating a vibrant dialogue and budding global youth network.

Professor Anis Bajrektarevic, professor of Law from the University of Vienna and Chairman of Modern Diplomacy, put it bluntly by saying we are in a crisis of the “cognitive:” namely, there is a dearth of “cognition.” In some circles, the talk already flows about the existence of a “cognitive war:”

“To address this issue, we need to rethink our global intellectual flow, create information pathways for youth to create their own narratives beyond traditional convention so they can articulate themselves, learn to become self-assured, and explore their boundaries and limitations”.

With this new MD platform project, youth can write about current affairs, contest theories, or share their own original creative trajectories. They can learn from each other by being engaged and reading new ideas not as a form of competition but as a spur for new intellectual growth. In addition, they can get feedback to improve their writing from a team of international, experienced, and well-articulated youth editors. Aditi Aryal, one of the editors for the MD Young Voices program, is an experienced and highly-regarded international writer. Growing up in Nepal and India, she has extensive experience in writing, addressing social taboos, and gender restriction in the South Asian context:

“Modern Diplomacy is a huge platform that permits the expression of unfettered ideas and opinions. It has always been a vibrant platform that allows writers to express freely without having to face backlash, judgment, or censorship. As I began my writing journey with Modern Diplomacy, I grew not only as a writer but also as a thinker. It has always supported my quest for expression of ideas without obstructions. I have found in Modern Diplomacy a secure space that has nurtured me, my writing, expression, and thoughts. There could not have been a more conducive platform for this growth that I have seen in myself”.

Another leading editor is Selene Sandoval, graduate student at Teachers College- Columbia University. Being a first-generation student of color to attend college in her family, Selene brings a passion for education, equity, and social empowerment. An experienced writer and tutor, she can help train and inspire other young writers to express and articulate themselves:

“My current belief for youth is that we have a voice stronger than we might realize. That is why it is essential for students around the world to research and be involved in issues that are affecting our generation, whether it be education, politics, or social issues. Students have historically been at the forefront of radical shifts in society by expressing their opinions on such issues like civil rights. Not only is it a way to express your opinion on current events and news around the world, but it is a way to grow as a writer. Writing as a basic skill is fundamental because it is part of every field. The more we are able to effectively communicate our ideas through writing, the more we are able to develop our professional careers. Modern Diplomacy can be the platform where you express your interests in a way that may be palatable for other youth to read and understand.”

‘Young Voices’ as a platform requires space where the communication and interaction of minds and ideas flow freely without judgment. By learning and engaging dissimilar perspectives and engaging in healthy debates and discussions, across all analytical disciplines and geographical locations, we welcome any age group to be participants! We at Modern Diplomacy seek to provide young people a constructive and cohesive community to build around them, based on the freedom of expression, intense analysis, and rigorous, rational thought.

Articles selected will be published on Modern Diplomacy online and the best articles will be published in our geopolitical Ebook series.

Articles can be submitted for reviews at mdyv[at]moderndiplomacy.eu

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New Social Compact

The need for speed on modern slavery

Dr. James Cockayne

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Three years ago, world leaders committed to take effective measures to end modern slavery by 2030. By the best estimates, there are around 40.3 million people in modern slavery. Reaching that goal would mean 9,127 people being removed from or prevented from falling into modern slavery each and every day between now and 31 December 2030.

How close are we to meeting that proposed rate of change? Until now, the short answer has been: we don’t really know. There has been no centralized place to access information on the rate of change towards this goal.

That changed on Sunday, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Delta 8.7 – a project of the Centre for Policy Research at United Nations University – began publishing country data dashboards measuring the change towards this goal.

These dashboards bring together the best available data on modern slavery, forced labour, human trafficking and child labour for each country. They also provide contextual information, including details of what each country is doing to bring these numbers down, and links to relevant legislation, national action plans and social protection arrangements. Over the coming months, more of these dashboards will be steadily rolled out.

So what do these dashboards tell us?

First, the dashboards suggest we are nowhere near the rate of change needed to meet the goal of ending modern slavery by 2030.

Even the countries that are performing best, with double-digit reductions in child labour, are not achieving the sustained reductions needed to meet the 2030 targets. Until we have more complete country coverage it will be too early to draw conclusions on a ‘global’ reduction rate, but the signs from the first set of dashboards are that a steep increase in reduction rates is needed.

Second, they show that we need to rapidly improve our ability to measure these reduction rates.

Most of the countries covered have reliable data only for child labour. Our ability to measure reduction of modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking is much weaker. That stands to reason: countries have invested more, over a longer period, in measuring child labour. Only recently have they begun to invest in efforts to measure modern slavery and forced labour with the same scientific rigor.

There are promising signs on this front, though. In October national statisticians from around the world agreed a new method for measuring forced labour, which should make better data available in the next few years. The UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime has also been working with countries to strengthen measurement of human trafficking.

Third, the country dashboards suggest that there may be lessons from the effort against child labour for the fight against adult forms of modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking. Some of the reductions in child labour identified in the dashboards are impressive – for example, child labour decreased 59% between 2002 and 2015 in Brazil, while in Argentina it decreased 31% in just one year between 2011 and 2012. Figuring out ‘what worked’ in the fight against child labour may be instructive as we seek to identify ‘what works’ in the fight against modern slavery – and scale it up.

Generating this type of knowledge can take time. Starting in February 2019, the project will work with partners to accelerate the knowledge-generation process on ‘Code 8.7’, by bringing artificial intelligence and machine learning into the equation. Computational science offers a way to accelerate the process of understanding what works to end modern slavery.

Ultimately, however, it will be up to world leaders to learn these lessons – whether generated by artificial intelligence or the old-fashioned human kind. Unless world leaders accelerate their own learning and efforts, chances are, we will not come close to meeting their lofty goal.

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