First Global Forum on Youth Policies connects the dots between gender equality and youth

Date: Thursday, October 30, 2014

Youth Forum participants
Participants at the Global Forum on Youth Policies in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo: UN Women/Emad Karim

“Nothing for youth, without youth” was the clarion call emerging from the First Global Forum on Youth Policies that took place in Baku, Azerbaijan, from 28 to 30 October. The Forum gathered more than 700 participants, including youth leaders, policy experts, UN officials and the largest gathering of ministers and government representatives working on youth issues since the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth in 1998, in Lisbon.

Co-organized by the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, UNDP, UNESCO, and the Council of Europe, with the support of and hosted by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Government of Azerbaijan, the Global Forum on Youth Policies was the first of its kind. UN Women participated in this meeting, organizing panels and presenting the perspectives of young women and girls.

The Forum brought together youth and policymakers to take stock of progress made in the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of youth policies at various levels since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the World Programme of Action for Youth in 1995, a global blueprint for advancing youth participation, development and peace.

Among other things, the Programme of Action called for countries to develop national youth policies, to guide their laws, services and public spending and improve the situation of young people. It also noted: “One of the most important tasks of youth policy is to improve the situation of girls and young women.”

As of 2014, 122 of 198 countries now have a national youth policy. This marks notable progress since 2013, when only 99 countries had one. The year 2015 will mark the 20th anniversary of the World Programme of Action for Youth, as well as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Baku panel
Ingibjorg Gisladottir of UN Women speaks at the “Guiding Principles for Youth Policy Development” panel at The First Global Forum on Youth Policies in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo: UN Women/Urjasi Rudra

“Youth policies can and must advance the goal of gender equality. The promise of the Beijing Declaration and Platform Action – gender equality in all dimensions of life – must become a lived reality for the world’s young women and girls,” said UN Women Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, Ms. Ingibjorg Gisladottir, while speaking at a panel on “Guiding Principles for Youth Policy Development.”

Among the world’s young, girls and young women face specific challenges. Globally, 35 per cent of all women and girls experience violence. More than 700 million women alive today were married as children.

More than 73 million young people are unemployed today, but ILO studies show that unemployment among young women is even worse than among young men.

“A policy framework is an indication of political will. However, a policy framework without a budgeted action plan is futile,” said the Honourable Minister of Gender and Youth of the Kingdom of Lesotho, Thesele John Maseribane, at the thematic panel on gender equality and youth policy, moderated by UN Women. Speaking of Lesotho’s experience, he added, to get to gender equality we must reach the youth.

Youth involvement has succeeded where a gender-responsive approach has been taken by the policymakers. I therefore urge this Forum to view youth involvement with a gender lens to ensure that no one is left behind.”

Women at large are still under-represented in national parliaments and in decision-making roles.

Speaking about her experience as a member of the Sri Lanka Youth Parliament, 23-year-old Jayathma Wickramanayake said “Sri Lanka's Youth Policy recognizes young women as a priority target group. We have the best literacy rates for women; there is no gender disparity in school enrolment, and more than 50 per cent of our university graduates are women. But this hasn’t translated into equal opportunities for employment, equal pay for equal work and access to political and civic participation for young women – which needs to be addressed by the youth policy. It is unacceptable that only 13 out of 225 parliamentarians in Sri Lanka are women.”

The Forum called for a set of key guiding principles for meaningful, inclusive and gender-sensitive youth policy development and implementation and participants called for young women and girls to take centre-stage.

“We must champion the need for investment in capacity-building of youth policy monitoring, review and reporting in order to address the critical issues affecting young women and girls all over the world,” said Yvonne Akoth of the Kenya Girl Guides Association.

The conveners of the Forum committed to incorporate gender perspectives in youth policy development and implementation, including through specific initiatives to advance the goal of gender equality in all dimensions of life for young women and young men, as equal partners in youth development.