Deputy Executive Director, UN Women, Lakshmi Puri speaks at the joint opening of the Gender and Youth Assemblies at the World Urban Forum


Remarks by Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women at the Joint Opening of the Gender and Youth Assemblies during the 2012 World Urban Forum in Naples, Italy, 2 September 2012.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning to all of you. I am pleased to address you today on behalf of the Executive Director of UN Women, Ms Michelle Bachelet, who unfortunately could not be present for this important event.

I would like to start by thanking the Government of Italy, UN Habitat, and all the partners for organizing and hosting this Gender and Youth Assemblies and the Sixth World Urban Forum with its overarching strategic theme “The Urban Future. And I would like to particularly commend organizers for giving priority to youth and gender as two central themes in the context of this World Urban Forum.

Today we will discuss a wide range of issues, from economic empowerment, to climate change, urban governance, employment, to water and sanitation, tenure security, energy and mobility. Together, we will make sure that the priorities we identify here in these Assemblies are conveyed to the World Urban Forum and its multiple stakeholders, including universities, business, parliamentarians and civil society. Our messages today will not only shape the outcome of the Forum, but other processes and particularly the post-2015 development framework.

Young women and men face challenges in a changing urban world.

We are living at a unique point in time. Worldwide the number of adolescents and young people is at an all-time high. There are 1.2 billion youth between the ages of 15 to 24 and 1.85 billion under age 14, together accounting for 44 per cent of the global population. And it is estimated that a majority of urban dwellers will be under the age of 18 by 2030.

As the world is facing many interconnected challenges including financial, economic, food, energy, environmental and other crises, young women and men represent a huge resource as agents of change for advancing peace and security, development, human rights and gender equality.

Young people, women and men, are also the most at risk with regard to changes in the economy, increasing inequalities within and between countries, and the impact of climate change. They continue to face challenges and limitations to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives. This is an issue of denial of rights, but also a loss of potential that the world cannot afford.

Adolescent girls and young women face particular challenges due to discrimination on the basis of sex and age, including child and forced marriage, early pregnancy; harassment and violence; cultural limitations to their mobility and engagement in the wider community. Gender stereotypes are restrictive and harmful to both women and men because they prevent individuals from fulfilling their potential to engage in their families, communities and countries.

Young people face obstacles because of the lack of openness of political processes, because of biased perceptions of their experience and capacity, and lack of sensitivity to their demands and priorities. Political parties, parliaments, governments or international organizations are often led by older men (and women) who are gatekeepers and who control access to political positions.

At the same time, young women and men are part of the solution.

Young women and men have demonstrated again and again their commitment and capacity to organize, to advocate for change and to contribute to all issues that concern them and their well-being, including political reform.

Claiming the space to participate in decision-making in politics, the economy or in urban planning is a matter of human rights and democracy. No consultation processes can be considered as democratic and inclusive if they do not reflect both young women's and men's views. Young people must be able to move from formal participation to the articulation of their rights, needs, and expectations. Institutions have to be fully accountable to young women and men. Their rights must be formally acknowledged in the law and must be translated into concrete governmental and institutional action. Effective participation must become an important indicator of development.

The current generation of young people, women and men, is better educated and better positioned than previous generations to use new information and communication technologies, participate in social groups, and contribute to dialogue and decision-making on matters that concern them. You have power in numbers and the potential to challenge existing ways of thinking and of doing business as usual. Your contributions and ideas can change the dominant discourse and also the way in which this discourse is developed.

The potential and creativity of young people holds the key to addressing the current complex challenges, be they access to education and employment, addressing climate change, and making cities inclusive and sustainable for all women and men.

This World Urban Forum and the Youth and Gender Equality Action Assemblies take place shortly after the Rio +20 conference. They also take place as discussions of future sustainable development goals and a post-2015 development framework are under way.

In the Rio outcome document, Member States stressed “the importance of the active participation of young people in decision-making processes, as the issues have a deep impact on present and future generations, and as the contribution of children and youth is vital to the achievement of sustainable development. .

Member States also underscored that women have a vital role to play in achieving sustainable development and recognized their leadership role in multiple places in the outcome document.

We must now carry forward and realize this vision.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made the empowerment of women and working with and for youth two of the priority areas of his second term. The UN system will develop an action plan to strengthen the focus of youth programmes across the UN system. The plan will prioritize the following areas: employment, entrepreneurship, political inclusion, citizenship and protection of rights, and education, including on reproductive health.

UN Women will continue its efforts to accelerate progress for gender equality and women's empowerment.

A central aspect of UN Women's strategy is increasing women's roles as leaders and advocates for change and amplifying women's voices in all processes that affect their lives. Through multiple advocacy and communication platforms, we are making a difference both in countries and at the regional and global level. We are working to strengthen international norms and standards on gender equality and women's empowerment and to make sure that sectoral policies fully take gender perspectives into account. We are working in 75 countries to translate these commitments into reality in the lives of women and girls.

In our work, we also work with young people. Through our campaign “Say NO - UNiTE to End Violence against Women, we are engaging young people to build awareness and engagement among their peers and in their communities. Together with Daksung Women's University, UN Women recently organized the World Congress of Global Partnership for Young Women in Seoul, Republic of Korea. The event brought together 100 women leaders and 1,000 university students from 20 Asian and eight African countries to provide a space for networking and forming international partnerships.

A recent Multi-Stakeholder Meeting on Child and Youth Engagement in Post-2015 held in New York mobilized civil society organizations, the UN system and member states to support the participation of young people in defining the post-2015 processes.

There will be no future without young women and men shaping the development of cities - cities that have to be safe and sustainable for all, that provide the resources for economic empowerment, infrastructure and services.

I look forward to our discussions. Thank you.