The Elephant in the Post-2015 Negotiations Room: Youth

Posted on 27. March 2015

by Nitin Sood

nitin-soodLast year the European Parliament decided to make 2015 the official European Year for Development. Rightfully so; at the end of this year, the Millennium Development Goals, the first-ever international development goals established to eradicate poverty and inequality, will expire. Whereas the world has made significant advancement in achieving many of the goals, the progress is not complete and therefore, in September, world leaders will adopt a new framework, commonly known as the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which will define the future global development discourse.

The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG), an intergovernmental body that had the primary responsibility of drafting an ambitious plan, proposed 17 goals and 169 targets last July. In December, the Secretary-General of the UN delivered a synthesis report, The Road to Dignity by 2030, which knitted together a broad range of recommendations, key reports, peoples’ voices and viewpoints. The two documents serve as the basis for governmental negations, culminating in a Special Summit on Sustainable Development where states are expected to adopt an unprecedented and transformative global development agenda. As a passionate activist who is fighting for a just, equitable and inclusive world, I look forward to reading the document that will steer development policies for the next 15 years. However, I can already tell you I will be bitterly disgruntled. Youth has been overlooked, once again.

Despite the vigorous lobbying from civil society, the OWG decided not to add a stand-alone goal on young people. In the entire proposal, there are only 2 targets out of 169 that focus on youth, both of them related to employment. Otherwise they are an addition to other groups, such as women, children or elderly people. The synthesis report is not much more exceptional, either. Out of 161 paragraphs, only one (number 71) is dedicated to adolescents, but as opposed to OWG’s proposal it relates to relevant skills, high-quality education and life-long learning. The absence of a stronger focus on youth in the Post-2015 Agenda will certainly impede the prospects of annihilating the tenacious injustice happening every day around the world.

Youth constitutes a quarter of the world’s population (1.88 billion) and we now have the largest generation of 15-25-year-olds in history. Nine out of ten adolescents live in a developing country. Youth endures pervasive injustice and possesses poor social, political and economic rights. Throughout the globe, young people experience grave inequality and structural discrimination. The Chronic Poverty Research Centre has identified youth poverty as a serious, global problem, because “youth are relatively likely to experience poverty because of age-based discrimination and the uncertainties and dynamism surrounding the transition from childhood to adulthood.” Mental health illnesses disproportionally impact young people’s living standards. And still our leaders think youth is too irrelevant to have a stand-alone goal, let alone have multiple targets exclusively focusing on youth development.

Granted, there have been several attempts to engage youths. This summer the EU is organising the European Development Days, where young people will have the opportunity to have their voice heard by the highest-ranking EU-officials. Last month (February) the UN hosted a Youth Forum that revolved solely around the issue of the Post-2015 Agenda and engaging youth. However, all of these attempts repeat the same critical flaw: young people are seen as essential agents of change, as the future, as tomorrow’s leaders, and we must be engaged in the discussions that shape development policies – just a few of the trivial catchphrases embedded in the platforms that causes my head to ache… And yes, we are agents of change, tomorrow’s leaders and we are the future. But we are also a group of people who are systematically discriminated and denied access to fundamental rights. What we want the most is our rights and human dignity to be respected.

Let us face the crude truth: the elephant in the Post-2015 negations room is youth. If you think domestic politics turn a blind eye youth issues, you have not witnessed how obediently diplomats have buried their head in the sand when it comes to the rights of young people. There are no regional or international human rights instruments that focus on youth. No government in the world has decided to actively promote the rights of young people at the UN-level. The EU’s Communication on Post-2015 has no mentioning of youth or young people, but elderly persons are included among the most vulnerable. In fact, for several years, there has been a strong support for a UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons, perhaps not from the EU, but certainly many other governments have flirted with the idea. So yes, elderly people and their rights are a contentious topic at UN, but youth rights will make your civil servants just yawn of boredom.

It comes as no surprise that the current leaders do not comprehend the magnitude of adverse consequences that will follow if youth is not mainstreamed throughout the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Life as a young person was different in their times and they have failed to recognise the changes that have happened in the life-course of those born in the last three decades. A common misconception among older generations is that life as a young person today is all peachy and laidback. Who wouldn’t like to be back in his/her twenties again? No more wrinkles and you still have hair, right? I bet young people are enjoying their life to the fullest in Greece, where the youth unemployment rate is a soaring 51, 2%.

By no means do I wish to end on a discouraged note, despite my disappointment in the outcome of the OWG’s and Secretary-General’s reports. Negotiations are still on-going, so we still have time to make a difference. Youth must be mainstreamed throughout the Development Agenda and all data must be disaggregated by age so we ensure that young people do not fall behind in development. Furthermore, such actions are needed to establish a comprehensive development agenda that legitimately eradicates inequality and supports welfare of all citizens, not just youth.

Therefore I call upon all of you to use your powerful voices and ensure that decision-makers pay attention to the elephant in the room. Make your politicians aware of young people’s rights, which have been denied for too long. Pressure governments, organise rallies, mobilise groups, write letters, let them know that no longer we are willing to participate as agents of change; we are a civil rights group that will no longer tolerate injustice.

Right now, not a single diplomat in the Post-2015 Negotiations is thinking of our rights and concerns.
But we have the ability to change the discourse. Let us make it happen.