Following a grand opening ceremony at the Magam Ruhunupura International Convention Center in Hambantota, serious deliberations have kicked off for the World Conference on Youth in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The WCY2014 is meant to focus on “Mainstreaming Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda”. There are over 1500 delegates from all over the world representing different interests. Two days into the consultations, are youth voices really being heard?
I just got out of the round table session on Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship, which featured panelists from various departments as well as youth delegates with a vested interest in the theme. This session, like all the others I’ve attended and covered as a Social Media Fellow took the usual format of panelists speaking for about 5-7 minutes after which delegates given time to ask about 2-3 questions, only for attention to be returned to the panelists, so they can answer questions. This imbalance in the allocation of time and attention to the concerns of the youth delegates is quite telling of the need for better representation of our voices where they really matter.
The world’s youth are hopeful that their representatives at this global gathering will not only present their challenges and problems but also work hand in glove with policy makers and the relevant stakeholders to come up with action-driven solutions which will be included in the outcome document of the Conference, The Colombo Youth Declaration.
Whose opinions are being represented in this outcome document that is expected to help in creating a better world for young people?
During the Question and Answer session at the aforementioned round table discussion, a youth delegate questioned the absence of key words relating to vocational training and education, relevant to shaping the future of the employment and employability status of young people, adding that no one is listening to what the youth are saying.
The designated facilitator for this session interrupted, telling him to ask his question to the panelists. The disapproval among the youth delegates was quite evident and a pair of them, from two different countries in the world, stood up in solidarity with their colleague. One declared that he will not support an outcome document that did not represent the voices and concerns of the young people present at WCY 2014, an echo of the voices of many young people who could not make it to Colombo. This was received with much applause from the delegates present.
I spoke to one of the African delegates who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, and he believes that the World Conference on Youth and its consequent Colombo Declaration on Youth ‘will not change anything’. There are irregularities in procedure, and withdrawals from the negotiations,
He further highlighted the under-representation of youth voices at these negotiations, where their voices truly matter and can make all the difference. This delegate seemingly echoes the voices of many others, adding that the situation is worse for Africa, due to the unequal representation of government delegates from the various African countries. The large delegation from South Africa, in his opinion, cannot fully represent and cater for the interests of other African countries with little or no government representation at the negotiations.
The Conference has been publicized as a gathering for the World’s youth, giving them an opportunity to meet with policy makers and their government officials to chart a way forward for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
But young people are being pushed aside even within the negotiations. As my fellow social media fellow Chris Wright highlighted this morning, young people are being sidelined within their own negotiations.
While no other negotiating groups were asked to sit in specified areas, young people were ‘requested’ to remain at the back of the negotiating hall. They were also asked not to publish specific country positions during the drafting of the Colombo text.
“It is great to see that young national delegates have the opportunity to discuss the text, but it is shocking that the Chair has asked for the negotiations not to publicised. These negotiations need to be transparent so that young people around the world can hear what is going on in their own Declaration”, Chris adds.
Is there any hope for change and different results from the MDGs if youth at WCY 2014 continue to feel excluded and sidelined in their own conference?
Will the future, or even the present, be any better for the world’s youth, especially in relation to the specific foundations and themes being discussed at this Conference?
How much importance are we giving to young people if sessions focus more on their questions than comments and some of their recommendations get withdrawn after review by the leaders here?
Will the voices of youth be fully represented in the Post-2015 Development Agenda if they already feel sidelined in the one space where they are expected to come up with recommendations for said Agenda?
I have so many questions on my mind and will continue to follow the proceedings, but more importantly, the reactions of the youth delegates here in Colombo. Hopefully, by Friday, when the outcome document will have been finalised, I will have answers to my questions.