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Engaging Youth Voices

Young people add tremendous value to the decision making process because they come with a fresh and open perspective, not yet tainted by possible limitations. Young people have been born into an era of exponential innovation which fuels motivation and feasibility for change. Improving youth representation is an area that the UN is committed to, as seen with the creation of the UN Youth Office and Summit of the Future. However, there are still too many barriers that inhibit UN youth participation and advocacy. Some of these include significant travel costs, student’s commitment to classes, visa restrictions, and lack of program support. For CSW, young people have worked to overcome these barriers by creating their own spaces for advocacy. This work is essential for influencing outcomes and creating change. 

As an IBVM/CJ UN NGO Youth Representative, I have had the opportunity to be involved in several youth focused events for CSW68. These include, contributing to UN Women’s Global Youth Recommendations, supporting the Working Group on Girls committee, speaking at the Virtual Youth Forum and participating in the three day In-Person Youth Forum. 

Global Youth Recommendations: 

Over the past 5 months, I have been actively involved in the subgroup responsible for writing the UN Women CSW68 Youth Recommendations. These recommendations advocate for the inclusion of youth voices within the CSW68 outcomes. 

We began this process by first reaching out to our global network. People were asked to submit their recommendations to a google form. Responses from over 150 consultations were analyzed and placed into a draft recommendations document. This reflected the voices of over 8000 youth from more than 100 countries. Finally, these recommendations were summarized and revised to align with UN objectives and agreed upon language. 

These consultations occurred at a grassroot, local, regional, and national level. Additionally, we received recommendations from adolescents, LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities, people from conflict affected areas, young migrants, people from rural communities, and many other marginalized groups. This scale of engagement enabled us to account for a broad range of perspectives.

Working Group on Girls: 

The Working Group on Girls (WGG) is an NGO committee working for Girls, with Girls, at the United Nations. Sr Janet, our UN Representative, is the current Secretary of the committee which gave me the opportunity to be highly involved. 

My favourite initiative run by WGG was the Teen Orientation, held the Sunday before CSW68. This orientation brought together approximately 100 CSW teen delegates. It was a fantastic opportunity for the students to learn about CSW68, discuss the priority theme and meet other teenagers attending the conference. I absolutely loved meeting so many enthusiastic girls who are passionate about advocating for gender equality. 

My major responsibilities with WGG included running their social media throughout the two weeks of CSW and co-creating the Girls’ Statement Video. 

UN Women Youth Forum: 

The Youth Forum is a space for young people  to discuss the challenges and opportunities in accelerating progress to achieve gender equality. To maximise engagement, UN Women hosted both virtual and in-person forums over two weekends in March. 

During the Virtual Youth Forum, I had the opportunity to present to the 300 virtual attendees. I spoke about our process for writing the Global Youth Recommendations, as I was an active member in the writing subgroup. I highly enjoyed the breakout room session where I was able to have one-on-one discussions with youth gender advocates across the world. 

The In-Person Youth Forum engaged a diverse range of youth activists who were participating in CSW68. I met many incredible young people who were doing amazing work in this space and felt very inspired by their advocacy. There was also an element of frustration surrounding the absence of senior people who have greater influence over outcomes. Youth voices are often excluded throughout the decision making process and although this forum provides an avenue for youth to engage, their voices go unheard if there is no one listening.  I felt that this sparked a personal awareness for how often youth perspectives are excluded from policy making and outcomes.

Overall, the youth engagement opportunities broadened my network and deepened my understanding of gender inequalities facing young people. 

Author: Lauren Grant, IBVM/CJ UN NGO Youth Representative