By Francesca Regalado
Seton Hall University was well-represented at the 2015 ECOSOC Youth Forum on February 2-3. The two-day event at the United Nations Headquarters convened youth, as well as their mentors and other professionals, to gather their input during the process of adapting millennium development goals (MDGs) to the post 2015 agenda known as the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Although delayed by inclement weather, participants were welcomed to the session by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, ECOSOC President Martin Sajdik, and the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi. In his opening address, the Secretary-General emphasized the U.N.’s goal to continuously involve and train youth in addressing the issues they will inherit, and whose consequences they will bear.
The first session separated delegates into focus groups on process, accountability, measurability, and partnerships and implementation, during which participants engaged in active discussion and offer suggestions in a more informal setting.
The World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY) was next on the agenda. The 1995 doctrine outlines 15 priority areas in youth development, particularly unemployment as well as job training, for national governments to use as a template in forming domestic policy. However, policy alone is not enough, as noted by Albanian Minister of Youth and Social Welfare Erion Veliaj.
The U.N.’s current goal is encouraging governments to put money towards their commitment. Recalling the past weekend’s Super Bowl, Mr. Veliaj likened youth engagement to football, “Working with you is like a contact sport, but like American football, it is also expensive.”
On the second day, the third panel on Youth Participation in Africa stirred the audience when Ibrahim Ceesay of the African Youth Alliance on the Post-2015 Agenda echoed Mr. Veliaj, though in less diplomatic terms. Later, Mr. Ceesay said, “The African Youth Charter is the only African Union document without accountability measures.”
The topic of the third panel leaned towards gender equality, or rather the growing disenfranchisement of young boys. Yale University’s Associate Director for Africa Rachel Nyaradzo Adams warned that inclusionary policies eventually become exclusionary, and that “we are at risk of excluding an entire generation of boys. Where gender empowerment is done well, we are struggling to find equally competitive boy talent.”
The session on Gender Equality and Youth set itself apart from the others. Moderated by Al-Jazeera journalist Femi Oke, who requested that the audience applaud only when a speaker’s words truly deserved it, the panelists related the topic to their personal lives, which served the discussion. Moremi Africa’s Vivian Onano declined the audience’s applause when she stated that she was the first girl in her community to receive an education. According to Ms. Onano, such a fact should not be applauded in the 21st century, as education is a basic human right. Daksitha Wickremarathne of the Global Civil Society
Advisory Group reminded the audience that gender equality is not only an issue between male and female, but also includes the reality of other genders.
The final session focused on financing youth policy. The World Bank was represented by World Bank Group Youth Summit Chairman Nicholas Bian, whose presence indicated that institutions with considerable influence aside from the U.N. are actively encouraging youth participation.
Swiss law student Steeve Guillod, a veteran of the ECOSOC Youth Forum since its inception, gave his insights on this year’s installment. “I’m a little bit skeptical about the framework of the forum,” he said, adding that he was disappointed that U.N. representatives discussed only their achievements instead of informing the delegates about existing obstacles that the youth can help solve. The impact of the Youth Forum on policymaking was also addressed by U.S. Youth Observer to the U.N. Jackson Dougan in an interview with The Global Current, the transcript of which can be found below.
The university’s delegation was organized by Professor Martin Edwards. Seniors Bjorn Schwarzenbach and Aliza Rizvi, along with Daniel Garay of The Global Current, tweeted updates from New York for the Seton Hall community in South Orange. Seton Hall U.N. Observer Elaina Estrin, freshman Mohammed Syed, and junior Matthew Peters were also present.
Eight development goals were identified as MDGs in 2000 at the Millennium Summit, targeting extreme poverty, education, and disease prevention. The 17 SDGs will be the main talking point in September at the United Nations Summit on the Post-2015 Development Agenda in New York.
Bjorn Schwarzenbach and Daniel Garay contributed to this article.