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The ICPD Global Youth Forum – A Multi-Stakeholder Meeting Led By Young People

FRIDAY FILE: The Global Youth Forum (GYF) held in Bali, Indonesia, from 4-6 December 2012, was a process mandated by the United Nations (UN) as part of the review of the implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action beyond 2014.

AWID spoke to two youth participants of the GYF, Sabrina Frydman[1]and Angeline Jackson[2]about the dimensions of a multi-stakeholder meeting led by young people, as well as some practical implications of the recommendations for different sectors.

By Marisa Viana & Ani Colekessian

AWID: The GYF was a multi-stakeholder space with strong leadership from young people. Why do you think this is important? What were some of the opportunities and challenges of bringing diverse sectors together in such a space?

Angeline Jackson (AJ): The Global Youth Forum brought together all the individual voices of the youth of the world, as one unified voice. In this unity our opinions and thoughts became louder and stronger than any single one of us speaking. It provided us with the opportunity to network and share experiences and lessons from our respective countries. The biggest challenge in the coming together of such a wide diversity of youth was that our different cultures influence the way we think and act, and thus affect what we bring to the table. Fortunately, despite this, there seems to have been very little direct conflict in the many discussions that took place.

Sabrina Frydman (SF): The GYF was definitely the place for young people to lead the discussion on the ICPD. The importance of it being a multi-stakeholder space with strong youth leadership has to do with the aim of the consultation, which was to get young people's views on the thematic issues[3]. I always had the opportunity to speak my mind, without any limitations other that my thoughts and beliefs. The sessions I attended were almost entirely composed of young people, although in some cases few people actually participated or proposed recommendations. This was one of the big challenges, but I believe the facilitators and rapporteurs (who were all young) did a wonderful job at making sense of the inputs.

The diversity was seen amongst young people from different countries, but less so in the multi-stakeholder character of the event. In the sessions I attended there weren't many government or private sector representatives, which would've made the debates more interesting. I imagine it is hard to find young representatives from those sectors, which is another shortfall I identified. The government representatives were all adults, so the "youth" character of the Forum was sometimes lost with strong participation from some adults.

Another issue was language, and while the diversity is a major advantage of the event, it is hard to debate in a foreign language, and at times perhaps people chose not to speak because they didn't feel comfortable with the language. In addition, Spanish sessions may have become regional discussions (LAC), thus missing the diversity in discussions. Finally, there were many people who were in Bali but did not attend sessions, which is a clear manifestation of a lack of commitment and perhaps an alert for the selection process.

AWID: The final Bali Youth Global Declaration includes progressive language around emerging issues such as the concept of families/family formation and sexual rights. Which are most significant and what are the practical implications for Governments, the UN and Grassroots organizing, going forward?

AJ: What is most important are the issues around sexual rights, as we first have to get to the point of recognising sexual rights before we can move into recognising the different forms of families. This is particularly true in countries where some of the issues being faced are women’s rights to reproductive health services and education, and the basic human rights of LGBT people. The implications of the progressive language are that it gives grassroots and youth groups a document to reference the inspiration behind their movements and work.

SF: I believe the progressive language around such emerging issues was a key point in the GYF, and we all felt a special commitment to ensure the final declaration reflected that as a priority. The most significant ones are those that are a clear step forward from the Cairo document, for example the reference to sexual rights, the right to access abortion services, and the consideration of specific groups such as LGTBQI.

As for the practical implications, though I'm tempted to say it will have a great impact, I think it will be largely up to us (civil society, NGOs), and how we manage to put these priorities forward. The GYF Declaration is just a declaration and not a negotiated government document. So it will be key to identify which matters are more likely to be contested by governments and other relevant stakeholders, and highlight these as key for the advancement of human rights, in particular when referring to sexual and reproductive rights.

AWID: How can the ICPD Global Youth Forum Bali Declaration be used as a mobilising tool? What are some recommendations for governments, the UN and Grassroots organizing going forward?

AJ: Youth (and youth groups) should present the Bali Youth Global Declaration to organisations and governments to engage these entities, and to do further work, including research and organising youth into groups. Concrete recommendations for governments would be to engage and utilize youth ideas and participation in committees and decision-making, and move quickly to recognise sexual rights as an inherent and indivisible part of human rights. This includes the removal of anti-abortion laws, and laws criminalising same-sex sexual activity.

SF: The Declaration has value in the content, but unfortunately lacks in enforcement, as it is just a declaration. It will more likely be seen as a manifestation of the desires of young people, rather than serious and precise objectives to be fulfilled. This is why the Declaration is a tool to be used as a guide for moving forward, especially on the most controversial matters.

The first recommendation is for all stakeholders to make the Declaration known and appreciate it as a unique document that unites youth voices from all over the world. The second, is also fundamental, and is emphasized by the document in several parts - the urgent need for youth participation in decision-making processes, in program planning, and not only when discussing youth matters. Young people's unique view and criteria, if considered in these stages, will enhance and improve the results of public policy in general. As a challenge for youth itself, the key is to mobilize properly trained young people, and offer training and capacity building, to show that youth participation is both important and enriching. Young people must demand this place in their countries in order to change the lives of young people.

Two government representatives that AWID spoke to also hailed the process as successful.

According to Milinda Rajapaska, Director of the Ministry of Youth Affairs in Sri Lanka, it was high time for everyone to sit and put their efforts together in an organized manner because youth development is not just the responsibility of any one group, it is a cross cutting responsibility of all the stakeholders. He believes that sexual rights will be a significant area to address because of the more than 1/3 youth population in Sri Lanka. It will require a lot of awareness raising and policy changes around education, health and youth development. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development will use the Declaration as a basic document during the Commonwealth Youth Forum in Sri Lanka this year and World Youth Conference in Colombo next year.

Marikje Wijnroks, Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS ambassador and Deputy Director for social development in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands, noted that youth were relatively absent in the 1994 ICPD Programme of Action and that the ongoing ICPD review process should result in a clear set of recommendations for issues related to youth that can guide efforts over the next decades. Adding that shaping this agenda for the future can only be done by young people themselves and that the GYF was very much youth-led, both in the organization as during the Forum itself. She believes that the declaration captures well the essence of the debates that took place during the forum, but that it is not a government negotiated consensus document, further stating that, this should not undermine the relevance and importance of the Bali Declaration.

Wijnroks concludes, “the explicit recognition of sexual and reproductive rights is the most significant for me, and this came out very strongly in the different sessions. We know that the official recognition of these rights in UN declarations is not going to be easy and will face massive opposition. And the Bali declaration is not going to change that. But the strong language is important and hopefully the beginning of a changing environment. After all, many of the youth leaders of today will be our leaders tomorrow and they can make a difference to the world. The main message for me is that young people have very clear ideas on the issues that affect their lives and we should provide space for young people to participate and engage in the policies that are relevant to them.”

[1] An intern with Amnesty International, Argentina

[2] A young advocate from Jamaica working on a wide range of women’s rights issues including sexual violence against lesbian and bisexual women and reproductive health of LGBT youth

[3] The objective of the GYF was to gather recommendations to address the key issues and gaps towards implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action. The GYF assessed five critical areas: Staying Healthy; Comprehensive Education; Families, Youth-Rights and Well-being including Sexuality; Transitions to Decent Work; and Leadership and Meaningful Youth Participation