Speech

Building on the past to improve the future: Youth inclusion and the need for inter-generational justice

17 February 2022

2022 Parliamentary Hearing at the United Nations

Hosted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the

Office of the President of the General Assembly

 

Mr. President of the General Assembly,

Honourable Parliamentarians,

Excellencies,

Distinguished guests,

What’s fair is fair. 

Fairness between generations is at the very core of sustainable development. Indeed, youth inclusion and intergenerational justice – is at the heart of UNFPA’s mandate and the key to a more just, peaceful and prosperous world. 

As young people lead the charge to quell the climate emergency…

As they stand for peace and against sexism, racism, homophobia and all forms of discrimination...

As they demand their rights and use the power of their collective voice to hold decision-makers accountable…

Let us ask: 

What more must be done to ensure that young people can take their rightful place in society, replete with the resources and opportunities to shape their lives and shape the world they want to live in?

While we must tackle the digital divide, much youth engagement remains offline. 

UNFPA is strengthening our work with youth-led organizations. To respond to Covid, young UNFPA volunteers stepped up to break the isolation of older persons in their communities. They assisted them in developing digital skills, accessing benefits, and with daily routines like shopping for food. Such initiatives foster mutual appreciation and intergenerational solidarity. 

The just distribution of resources and opportunities is important for everyone. Yet for world’s more than 1.8 billion young people, the stakes are far higher. 

Imagine a 12-year-old girl, embarking on her adolescence.

If she can stay in school, attain a good education, she’s on a path of health and wellbeing throughout her life. The children she chooses to have, when right for her, also will have better prospects. 

If, on the other hand, she is forced to drop out of school or becomes pregnant while still a child herself, if she is forced to marry or subjected to female genital mutilation or other forms of violence, then her life changes radically for the worse. 

Her education ends and her job prospects diminish. She’s now far more vulnerable to poverty; her health often suffers. Her country and our world are denied the full realization of her potential.

It’s young people’s access to education, decent employment, and quality health services that determines whether countries will reap the economic dividends of large well-equipped working age populations. The very well-being of the older generations depends upon the contributions of young people during their working lives.

UNFPA advocates for young people, and especially girls, to complete their schooling and to access sexual and reproductive health information and services. We support countries to implement their comprehensive sexuality education programmes, which equip young people to make informed decisions about their bodies and lives and enable them to see themselves as future leaders.

A girl who knows about her rights and choices, who’s empowered to interrupt the prevailing gender norms and stereotypes, can be far more effective in her political participation.

This is one of the priorities of the Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda, which proposes the development of an Index on Youth in Politics.

Such actions can help rekindle young people’s trust in their governments and decision-makers. Yet trust is a two-way street. Governments and decision-makers need to trust their young citizens. 

With February celebrated as Black history month, I recall the words of astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison in addressing young people: “Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations.”

Together, let’s stand with young people so that there are no limits to what they can achieve when fully at the centre of the international development agenda, of humanitarian interventions, of gender equality, of peace and security efforts, and of our unwavering defense of human rights for all. 

 

Thank you.

 

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