Responding to the concerns of future leaders

April 24, 2019

Sisters Nastarin Mahmudova, second from left, and Sevineh, to her right, are young tech innovators pushing boundaries. They participated in last year’s UNDP supported Technovation Challenge for young women to create socially conscious applications, where the created a telephone app to assist families with children diagnosed with Down Syndrome. UNDP Eurasia / Danielle Villasana

There is still a long way to go before we achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, but there is one reason for optimism: young people, in all their diversity.

They are torchbearers for the 2030 Agenda and a vast source of innovation, knowledge and expertise. Every day, young women and men are pushing for the changes we urgently need in technology, climate action and job markets. They're calling for inclusive and just societies, putting new ideas on the table and speaking truth to power. Young women and men have different perspectives on the world and the challenges we face, and they are speaking up and pushing boundaries. And we should be listening.

This is why the focus of the Tunis Forum on Gender Equality, taking place this week in Tunisia, is on youth participation, so that the forum can be inclusive of, and responsive to, the concerns of future generations of global leaders. Co-organized by the Governments of Tunisia and Sweden, UNDP and UN Women, the forum is one of the first to take stock of the progress we have made since the ground-breaking Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which approaches its 25th anniversary next year.  

The agenda of the forum was shaped by a consultative process involving nearly 6,000 people. Over three days this week, we will examine how far we have come in gender equality in the last 24 years, as well as looking more closely at women’s leadership in local governance, in peace and security, and how innovation and technology can boost women’s economic status. Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is critical to attaining all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its central pledge to leave no one behind.

Fulfilling the vision of the 2030 Agenda

Making sure young people can fulfil their potential is an important end in itself, for everyone, everywhere. But, it’s much more than that: if we are to create a more peaceful, sustainable and prosperous world for all, to fulfil the vision of the 2030 Agenda, we need young people to lead. The future is in their hands. The world today is home to the largest generation of young people in history, 1.8 billion. Close to 90 percent of them live in developing countries, where they constitute a large proportion of the population.

Young people around the world face many challenges. Delegates to Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) Youth Forum earlier this year, emphasized that young women continue to be denied universal, rights-based social protection and public services. To address this, the young people at CSW developed ‘common standards’ to call on governments to ensure that social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure meet the needs of young people and advance gender equality.

In response, UNDP is addressing youth-specific needs and partnering with young women and men who want to contribute to development and peace. We are using our strong field presence and broad mandate to help remove barriers to youth’s meaningful participation in development; from our support for youth-led incubators in Eastern Europe and social entrepreneurship in Asia-Pacific through our Youth Co:Lab initiative, to the promotion of decent jobs for young people in Africa through our Youth Connekt platform, to our work with young peace builders in Colombia, and to initiatives to enhance youth civic engagement and political participation in the Arab states.

Harnessing and supporting youth leadership  

In all regions of the world, we have accompanied youth-inclusive legislative and policy reforms, programmes and projects--giving special attention to marginalized young women and men--harnessed and supported youth leadership and opened new channels for young people to be consulted and to contribute meaningfully.

Recently, as part of UNDP’s Youth Global Programme for Sustainable Development and Peace, we launched an exciting “16 x 16 global initiative” with the Government of Italy, with the goal to recognize, support and partner with 16 youth-led organizations that focus on the implementation, monitoring and review of SDG 16 – peace, justice and strong institutions. Half of this group will be led by women.

Young people today look at the world differently than we did even five or 10 years ago, and their perspectives should be included. What was clear from this year’s CSW Youth Forum is that for young people, gender equality is not merely about including young women at the table, but rather reshaping the table and transforming norms and power relations in the long term, to build more equal, inclusive and just societies. I look forward to the discussions with young activists this week on how we can better address and include their needs in advancing gender equality in the lead up to Beijing+25.