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Youth Forum: UN Chief Calls For ‘Tangible Improvements’ In The Face Of Injustice, Poor Governance

Leaders across the world need to “move beyond platitudes” about young people, and deliver a better future for them all, Secretary-General António Guterres told the 10th Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on Wednesday.

He described the gathering online as “the UN’s foremost platform” for tackling the many pressing challenges facing young people today, including the impacts of COVID-19, which, among other things, have rendered one-in-eight young people – the majority girls - without access to education. One-in-six are without jobs and mental health problems are rising fast.

“In this context, we should not be surprised that both online and in the streets, young people have been expressing their impatience with the pace of change…and their frustration with injustice and poor governance”, Mr. Guterres said, stressing the need to listen to youth to rebuild trust.

Leading the way forward

The UN chief underscored that “tangible improvements” are required in education, employment, environmental protection and digital connectivity – “through a just, inclusive, green and sustainable recovery”.

“The UN’s first-ever system-wide Youth Strategy, Youth2030, is our commitment to strengthen our work with and for young people”, he said, referring to the UN monitoring platform on how it is responding to the needs of youth in the COVID crisis and its work in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Yet more must be done [and] we need you to continue showing the way on critical issues, such as racial justice and gender equality. And we need you help us make peace with nature and forge a transition that takes us beyond fossil fuels into a world of renewable energy and net zero emissions”, he told the participants.

‘Walking the talk’

Author of the latest Youth2030 Progress Report, found here ,UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake, enthusiastically revealed that more than 11,000 young people from all over the world had converged virtually for the Forum, making it the largest gathering of youth at the UN in the Organization’s history.

She underscored it as an opportunity to celebrate their “resilience, drive, creativity, and leadership in building a more sustainable, just, and inclusive world for all, as envisioned in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

It also shines a light on where young people are most often left behind, excluded and marginalized.

“We need to show the generations before us that those of us who are Millennials and Generation Z are walking the talk when it comes to inclusivity and equality”, said Ms. Wickramanayake, urging everyone to “hold decision-makers accountable for their actions” and to advocate for more youth representation where decisions are being made.

At a crossroad

The Youth Envoy pointed out that over 1.8 billion youth face issues “that no other generation has encountered”, including the climate crisis, conflicts and systems of inequality that “pose a threat to young people's lives and futures”.

“We are at an intersection. Despite the hardships of the past year, we have an unprecedented opportunity to recover better together, reimagine the status quo and build a new normal based on values of justice, equality, intersectionality, and sustainability — with young people front and centre”, said Ms. Wickramanayake.

Tasks at hand

ECOSOC President Munir Akram saw the forum as a time to reflect on a decade filled with crises, as well as achievements.

To address the challenges, he outlined the need to defeat the Covid-19 virus by equitably vaccinating “everyone, everywhere”, and maintained that efforts must be made to recover from the pandemic-induced recession and “revive the prospects” of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

He said “economic, social, racial [and] gender inequalities”, were now endemic, saying “we must defeat the rising forces of racism, extremism and fascism”.

“The future belongs to you, the youth”, he added. “We need your energy, your ideals, your boldness, your imagination, your innovation, to build the structure of a peaceful, prosperous and equal world order”.

Passing the mic to youth

Volkan Bozkir, President of the General Assembly said young people had been hit hard: “Youth is not a homogenous group”, he said, imploring each young person to speak up, share their experiences and amplify the voices of “peers who have been silenced”.

“We are passing the mic to you”, said Mr. Bozkir. “But it is your responsibility to pass it along, to the most vulnerable voices” that have not yet reached the UN, to promote the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development during recovery.

Power of youth

“Never doubt your power”, he said, calling young people the “problem-solvers who will find the solutions to the existential challenges humanity will face in the future”.

“You are the defenders of the equal, inalienable and fundamental human rights for all. You are the keepers of peace, the guardians of the [UN] Charter”, he said.

At 1.8 billion strong, the Assembly president upheld that youth would forge a “pathway to 2030 and beyond”, asserting that “we are with you every step of the way”.

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