Young people speak out at UN

By Julie Mellin from the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GYCA), an Alliance Link Up partner.

Amid the meetings, receptions, and planning sessions held during the opening of the 69th UN General Assembly, sat a panel of five young people passionate about realising the rights of young people all over the world in the post-2015 agenda.

The discussion, Leaving no one behind in the post-2015 Development Framework: Responding to the HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights needs of young marginalized people through community empowerment, was held on September 25th and brought together youth advocates from Latin America, South Asia, and southern Africa.

The event was significant. "We are missing opportunities to hear from young people because of inequality,” said one of the speakers, S.M. Shaikat, an advocate for women and girls’ rights in Bangladesh since he was 16.

Session moderator Ishita Chaudhry of the YP Foundation and the High Level Taskforce for ICPD pointed out that "we need to talk about the reality and restrictions that young people face at the ground level - there is a big disconnect between that and what’s discussed most often at the UN." Although the panel discussion took place on UN premises, it is exceedingly rare to hear young people speak like this on the floor at an official UN meeting, particularly those around the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Often young people are given a few minutes to speak at the end of meetings (if time allows), a tokenistic gesture after they have travelled a great distance to share their recommendations.

What young people are saying is important, not only the fact that they are speaking at all. There are young people, and occasionally marginalized people speaking at the UN in the "important rooms," but what they’re saying is often not coming from them, they are not speaking about their own solutions and experiences, and are not speaking as experts.

The conversation in the room was dynamic, participatory, and passionate, but the message was clear: those with the power and opportunity to create policies and programming at every level must listen to young people and create space for their participation. Young people know what they need and how to get it, and they must be considered experts, and included at the table.

Speakers at the event also included H.E. Guilherme Patriota of Brazil and Dr. Luiz Loures of UNAIDS. The discussion was hosted by the Government of Brazil and organized by a number of partners, including the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GYCA).

Read more about the Link Up project which is working with young people in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda, and you can read Julie Mellin's blog in full here.