UNITED NATIONS, New York — Hundreds of young people converged on the United Nations today as the General Assembly kicked off a high-level meeting devoted to tackling the challenges facing youth and exploring their potential to bring about change in their societies and in the world at large.
“We are seeking to promote a culture of dialogue and mutual understanding between young people and with young people as key stakeholders in today’s world,” Assembly President Joseph Deiss said as he opened the meeting.
UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin proved to be a staunch advocate for young people on day one of the meeting, which was organized as one of the official highlights of the International Year of Youth.
Addressing the first thematic panel discussion, Dr. Osotimehin made a strong case for full participation and ownership of young people in development and investing in their health and education, including sexual and reproductive health. “To succeed, development needs the participation of young people,” he said, adding that it demanded more than “token” participation, but rather youth engagement in planning, implementing and monitoring of programmes.
Citing the large proportion of young people in the demographic structure of many developing countries, Dr. Osotimehin also emphasized that investing in young people provides an opportunity for accelerated economic progress. “Let us make young people the entrepreneurs of a new green economy,” he said.
The Executive Director echoed this theme at a lunch-time side event sponsored by the African Union about financing youth development and empowerment in that continent. "Africa should make investments in education and resources to allow African young people to be leaders in the green movement," Dr. Osotimehin said. He explained that African youth are uniquely positioned to become world leaders in developing sustainable, ‘green’ solutions to our biggest challenges.
He also expanded on the theme of fully engaging women and girls. When he declared "It is important to create a political space for young people, and from where I stand, especially young women," the room erupted in applause.
"I cannot see how we can walk with one leg,” he added. “We must walk with both legs and women and young women must be given a space."
Dr. Osotimehin also encouraged young people around the world to take part in the 7 billion Actions campaign as a way to make a difference local and globally.