Feature Story

24 June 2013

A Platform for Voices of Arab Youth in a Critical Time

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UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin meets with young people at the the Regional Population and Development Conference in Cairo.

CAIRO -- Under the theme of 'Development Challenges and Population Dynamics in a Changing Arab Region', the Regional Population and Development Conference (24-26 June)  provides a platform for young people to be heard at this pivotal time in the Arab region and to help shape the population and development agenda for the post-2015 framework.

"Arab youth have become aware of the brush in their hand and the time is now to start painting the reality that we want,” said Marovan Ben Larbi, the Focal Point for the Youth Peer Education Network (Y-PEER) in Morocco.

Young people in the Arab States have been at the heart of recent movements for change in the region. They continue to influence the democratic and demographic transitions in their countries, and to claim their rights for inclusion and participation. With 60 per cent of the Arab region’s population below the age of 25 and about one in five between the ages of 15 and 24, young people represent a crucial demographic and socioeconomic dividend.

"Youth can play a pivotal part in transforming our region,” said Ahmad Alhendawi, the United Nation Secretary-General´s Envoy on Youth in his keynote address. “Young people are our opportunity, and we ought to invest in them and respond to their claims for rights.”

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action underscores that countries need focus on the human rights and needs of young people, who are often are less able to access their human rights and less likely to benefit from economic development.

Aspirations of Arab youth

The voices of the vibrant and engaged Arab youth are emerging stronger than ever in their respective national contexts. “A youth perspective needs to be incorporated in the way forward so that youth experiences and aspirations will guide policy makers in our countries,” says Lynn Darwich from the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies in Lebanon.

Recent movements for change have underscored the fact that Arab youth possess an unique ability to mobilize , voice their concerns and future aspirations, and empower themselves with relevant information and knowledge to ensure that they make relevant choices to lead meaningful lives that will benefit them, their families and society.

“I see the emerging political and socioeconomic environment in the Arab region as an opportunity for the youth; we have an outlet now to share and discuss our issues,” said Alaa Khach of Y-Peer Syria. “We also need to take responsibility to be the voice of the still voiceless youth in our region.”

Civic engagement

Arab youth understand their realities and the steps that need to be taken to transform bring about meaningful progress better than anyone. They are willing and able to be considered as stakeholders in decisions influencing them from the community to policy level.

“In some cases young Arab girls are forced into marriage and staying at home against their, which exemplifying the gender inequalities we ought to reverse in our region,” said Nermeen Al Qadi of theSharek Youth Forum in Palestine.

The Arab Youth Report, ‘the Road toward Citizenship and Participation’ presented at the The Regional Population and Development Conference in Cairo recommends that policy makers consider youth as active partners and human capital to be invested in. The report also calls for addressing the multidimensional nature of the current exclusion of youth. Members of the Arab Youth Coalition shared their concrete recommendations to pave the way for more youth inclusion:

“Arab States ought to embark on establishing a Ministry of Youth, and priorities should be youth participation, youth participation, youth participation,” said Alaa Khach.

“Social media can assist in disseminating the message of young voices broadly across society,” added Marovan Ben Larbi of Y-PEER Morocco. “The networks of performers, singers, writers and others can also be used in innovative ways.”

The Arab Youth Coalition is a forum of youth from across the Arab region facilitated by the UNFPA Arab States Regional Office.

Collective call – collective response

At the session on ‘Young People Shaping their Future’, United Nations Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi enthusiastically voiced the aspirations of youth by presenting the Call for Action by the Arab Youth Coalition.

“The idea of coming together as a collective forum is amazing and I believe that being united will pave the way towards making our opinions heard in our dialogue with our policy makers,”said Nermeen Al Qadi of the Sharek Youth Forum in Palestine.