UNITED NATIONS, New York — "Your generation is the largest the world has ever known," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told young people at the opening of UNiting for Youth : Interactive Dialogue on Youth Initiatives.
"The tools at your disposal for communicating and acting are unprecedented. But so are the challenges – from growing inequalities and shrinking opportunities, to the threats of climate change and environmental degradation," he added.
During the event, which brought together senior UN officials and young people from all around the world just a week before International Youth Day, the Secretary-General reaffirmed the United Nations' commitment to youth empowerment as outlined in the United Nations System-wide Action Plan for Youth, the first common UN strategy of its nature.
The plan focuses on five thematic areas: employment and entrepreneurship; political inclusion; civic engagement and protection of rights; education, including comprehensive sexuality education; and health.
The interactive dialogue featured a panel of senior UN officials: UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin; Acting Head of UN Women Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Special Representative of the International Labour Organization on Youth and Social Inclusion Mr. Charles Dan; and Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Director for Arab States of the UN Development Programme Dr. Sima Bahous.
Dr. Osotimehin began the panel discussion by saying, "I'm glad to see we are engaging young people in the conversation. That is, we're not talking to them, we're talking with them. This is where progress will be made."
He described the UN Interagency Network on Youth Development's commitment to a coordinated holistic approach to youth issues, particularly emphasizing the importance of youth participation in all levels of governance. "All too often as adults, we see ourselves prescribing our values to youth. We don't listen to them. We need to increase youth civic engagement in order to appreciate the value systems and expectations of youth." Dr. Osotimehin said.
Youth participants then posed questions from the floor of the General Assembly Hall in New York, through videoconference from Lebanon, India, Belgium, Nigeria, and Brazil and via social media including Facebook and Twitter.
"What can we as young people do to remove barriers to contraceptives?" asked a youth in the room.
"What can the UN do to advocate for access to information and services on sexual health, specifically for young people in rural areas?" asked a Nigerian through the videoconference.
"How do you think that sustainable development should be taken into consideration in employment policy decisions related to youth?" a young man from Belgium wanted to know.
A number of other questions related to reproductive health issues, greater international youth-to-youth communication, and use of new technologies to promote the rights of young people.
reported by Emily Harris and Hala Nasr