Speech

Young People at the Centre

20 July 2018

“Generation Now”
Briefing for Member States

Remarks by Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director

Good morning! 
Thank you Henrietta, 
UN Youth Envoy Jayathma, 
Distinguished Delegates, 

When I talk to young people, I tell them you are the U in UNFPA. If we want to live up to the ideals of the UN Charter, if we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and if we want to build peace, then we have to put young people at the center. We have to embrace young people as equal partners on this journey together.

I am pleased to be here today. UNFPA welcomes this initiative, Generation Now. As a member of the Board, I look forward to having the opportunity to guide this effort and move it forward together within and beyond the UN system.

We know that young people represent one of the greatest untapped resources for driving the bold and ambitious 2030 Agenda. 

As the Secretary-General said at the closing of the High Level Political Forum, “First, we must mobilize the transformative power of the world’s young people. In September, we will launch the UN’s strategy to support and engage young people. Education is essential – as a critical tool for empowerment, for advancing gender equality and decent work for all, and for changing the way we produce, consume and live.”

All over the world, young people say: “Nothing for us, without us!” At UNFPA, we have heard, learned and taken this principle to heart. Our partnerships with young people are, and must always be, based on their active and meaningful participation.

Looking around, we see that the youth field is evolving fast, and this initiative is a prime example. 

Since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, we have seen movement in all three pillars of the UN’s work. 

The updated Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, designed to support the health SDGs, now explicitly includes adolescents as a major target group. 

The Security Council’s historic resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security recognizes that vital role of youth peacebuilders. The Human Rights Council resolution on youth and human rights puts the focus where it must be. And last month in June, ECOSOC delegates recognized the positive contributions of young people in the humanitarian sector. 

For UNFPA, working with and for young people has a long-standing tradition. Young people are at the forefront of the ICPD agenda for population and development - at the heart of the UNFPA mandate. UNFPA has been working with and for young people since our inception. 

Today we welcome this initiative to join efforts to take solutions for young people to scale.

And I would like to make a few points about UN reform and system-wide coherence. UNFPA is committed to the 2030 Agenda, and to supporting Member States in achieving the SDGs, in line with the UN Secretary General’s vision for a more effective UN Development System.

In this regard, our work, in particular with UNICEF, UNDP and UN Women is guided by the Common Chapter of our respective Strategic Plans. This lays out our joint commitment to plan, implement and enhance multi-stakeholder partnerships to achieve common results together. 

I would also like to say a few words about the UN Strategy on Youth to be launched this September. The UN Secretary General asked us all to develop a broader agenda to accelerate the participation, improve the well-being and uphold the rights of young people everywhere. 

The new UN Strategy on Youth represents the unwavering commitment of the United Nations to prioritize young people, and our collective commitment as a UN family to step up our work for and with young people, under the leadership of the Secretary General. 

The key priorities of the Strategy include: youth engagement, participation and advocacy; solid and healthy foundations; economic empowerment; human rights; and peace and resilience building. 

The “Generation Now” initiative, which we will be discussing today, is yet another example of the increasing importance that the UN is giving to young people. 

We believe that if the “Generation Now” initiative builds on existing efforts, and takes relevant expertise and evidence into account, it will provide an opportunity to scale up effective programmes that address the pressing concerns and needs of young people. 

As I stressed, it is absolutely crucial to meaningfully engage young people in the process to ensure their ownership and relevance to their realities. This way, Generation now, can have a multiplier effect. We have already seen this in our joint efforts to end harmful practices such as child marriage and FGM, and gender-based violence, and violence against children. 

Now as for the role of UNFPA, I would like to stress the importance of addressing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people. For this, we must acknowledge our collective responsibility. This is not only important to prevent adolescent pregnancies, and to reduce maternal death and HIV infection. It is also important to promote healthy and respectful relationships that foster gender equality, and young people’s ability to be leaders to achieve the goals set out for Generation Now and the 2030 Agenda. 

The agency and skills of young people to make informed decisions during their transition from adolescence to adulthood improve health, well-being and development outcomes for young people, their communities and society.

It’s important to emphasize that there are already a number of initiatives with and for young people, many of them under the leadership, or with strong support by UNFPA. 

I am talking about the Compact on Young People in Humanitarian Action that UNFPA co-leads with the International Federation of the Red Cross, the Adolescent Health of the Every Woman Every Child Strategy, and youth in peacebuilding as a follow-up to the recommendations of the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security, mandated by Security Council resolution 2250.  

UNFPA will continue this ongoing work with national governments and partners to increase investment in young people, both as a human rights imperative, and to harness the demographic dividend.

“Generation Now” builds on already strong collaboration between UNFPA and UNICEF. Based on our complementary mandates, our two agencies collaborate on a number of initiatives, including but not limited to:
○    Joint global programmes on child marriage, FGM and gender-based violence in emergencies;
○    Collaboration on HIV Prevention;
○    Joint work at country level for improvement of national data systems, including generation and use of disaggregated data on adolescents; and
○    Collaboration under the new Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action.

We highly value this collaboration, and we look forward to working together to deliver results for the UN Youth Strategy through well-coordinated and coherent work together, avoiding duplication of existing efforts and scaling up our joint efforts.

We hope that “Generation Now” will bring further visibility and resources to our collective work. We look forward to continued collaboration with governments, civil society organizations, youth-led networks, the private sector, and all partners working for and with young people. 

Allow me to close by inviting each and every one of the world’s treasured young people to heed the words of the great Nelson Mandela:

“You can start changing our world for the better daily, no matter how small the action.” 

Thank you and I look forward to our discussion.