Source: AUN News
KATHMANDU, September 5 (IPS) – There are numerous ways the UN can play a significant role in promoting youth engagement and participation and assisting them in becoming a central pillar of a new policy-making process.
After all, if we want to rethink the relationship between the state and citizens, which is the foundation of the new Social Contract envisioned by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, youths must be given a voice and an agency powerful enough to influence decision-making, both locally and globally directly.
At the former level, the UN has the authority to establish UN Youth National Forums or Assemblies wherever it operates. Such entities would be more than tokenistic forums where meetings occur on an “as needed” basis. Still, they would be structured as permanent mechanisms capable of advising and monitoring the work of the UN Country Teams.
Having such forums in place locally would pave the way for bolder action at higher levels on the international stage.
It is here that the UN has an excellent opportunity to model a truly radical change in terms of global youth participation, raising the bar in terms of what youth involvement means and what it can imply.
International politics would undoubtedly be changed, if not dramatically or quickly, if we created routes for adolescents to play a more central role and produced a system or method for them to accomplish such responsibilities.
This is why Guterres should work for a goal that, despite being discussed in the past, was never wholly examined or executed.
I’m talking about the proposal to establish a permanent UN Youth Assembly that would function independently alongside the current General Assembly and serve as a venue for young people worldwide to discuss and determine policy direction.
This permanent mechanism might either be connected to the assemblies or forums that the UN could set up at the country level, or it could simply be wholly separate and stand-alone, with its members chosen through open and competitive processes at the national levels.
While we cannot now envisage that such a group would have any veto authority, it may, for instance, play a symbolic but significant role, especially in getting the attention of the major world powers.
For instance, it would often have access to the UN Security Council, the most crucial body in the international community.
The official positions of its members, which are the outcome of covert discussions between governments, won’t change, but at least they may be openly contested.
Imagine some UNYA representatives speaking to the Security Council after their deliberations: this would serve as a potent reminder to international leaders that young people can dare to think differently.
Inputs and feedback from young people worldwide might make this envisioned UN Youth Assembly genuinely owned by the young people of the entire world, and the functioning model of the assembly could serve as a model for participation and transparency.
A permanent online platform might provide topics for discussion for the UN Youth Assemblies in a way that anyone, even those who aren’t officially part of the UN Youth Assembly, could contribute thanks to the advancement of digital labour.
It is crucial and challenging to ensure a strong link between this assembly and the young people worldwide.
Any audacious attempt to establish a new global organisation for youth participation in decision-making runs the risk of becoming an exclusive forum for the best-connected adolescents.
The “usual suspects,” young people from wealthy homes with access to opportunity, would “capture” their new “toy” instead of bringing in young people from underprivileged groups.
Because of this, UN organisations and programmes worldwide must improve their efforts to encourage civic engagement and participation, creating novel avenues for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to interact and decide.
A conduit for a more diverse group of adolescents to have a chance to be active and participate might be provided through the establishment of national procedures for the UN to engage youngsters at the country level.
Youth capacity building is becoming an increasingly important investment.
Training, courses, institutes, or academies could provide a way for the UN to create a sort of “upward mobility” in terms of participating opportunities for many youths who are currently excluded, thanks to creative partnerships with civil society.
Additionally, the UN Youth Assembly members should be chosen through a rotating process. They should only serve terms of six months or, at the most, a year, as these shorter terms would allow for the participation of more young people.
Additionally, each of its representatives would receive support from a national deliberative group, creating another link between local youth and the global stage to ensure a solid connection between this new body and the reality on the ground.
Posing such a body carries hazards.
The UN Youth Assembly might easily be made fun of concerning its tasks and obligations.
It would be viewed as just another tokenistic tool that governments may employ to encourage some types of reforms but, in reality, would only serve to maintain the status quo in terms of power dynamics and decision-making.
The UN Youth Assembly must receive the research and analytical tools necessary to establish it as a reliable source of recommendations from the viewpoint of young people.
Deliberations led by youths ought to be based on a suitable procedure for accessing the best information available and through a reasonably structured exercise in the deliberative process that would, in the end, result in suggestions or proposals, also in the form of policy briefs.
Creating a UN Young Assembly will not preclude youth activism or involvement in other ways.
For instance, teenage activism on the issue of climate change has demonstrated how aggressive their efforts must be to be seen and heard.
The Assembly would be just one more way for young people to adequately express their opinions and voices, which is currently wholly lacking. This would help overcome the myriad of improvised consultation mechanisms frequently developed for foremost international leaders’ gatherings, which have minimal impact.
The UN Youth Assembly might also be granted some limited binding powers to shape the direction of UN agencies and programmes, giving it a clear voice and ability to determine its global strategies and goals, similar to the local UN Youth National Forums or Assemblies.
Future youth participation in global agenda-setting will combine various complementing efforts at the grassroots and top levels.
Civil disobedience and other peaceful protests are alongside other youth involvement activities.
A new worldwide platform to voice their opinions shouldn’t be perceived as a means of suppressing bottom-up initiatives but rather as another way to change how political power is used.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network