Youth Must Be At The Table

Youth are so often told to “wait your turn.” What many don’t realize is that this is our turn. We cannot be sitting on the sidelines while allowing others to make great decisions that will impact our lives for decades to come. We must be involved now. That is why I attended – in wake of health issues – this year’s High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development.

While many topics were discussed on our Sustainable Development Goals, from ending poverty and food insecurity to COVID-19, this meeting of Member States, NGOs, and stakeholders touched on an important topic intertwined between all of these issues – young people. Specifically, the HLPF sessions brought up the importance of including young people in the conversation.

This occurred not only during main sessions when countries gave updates on how they are reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, but during side events, town halls, and voluntary national reviews; young people were welcomed and encouraged.

This breath of fresh air in a political realm is one we do not often see here in the United States. Times are changing and having the United Nations’ support is no small gesture. However, whether this support will translate into broader support from the UN during the 75th General Assembly, is the real question. With only a few months away, we can only hope that they take the HLPF’s model of inclusion and mainstream it. We as young people are not only the future; we are the present. If we can show the world that we have ideas and meaningful things to say, they will listen.

The best avenue for ensuring that our voices are heard would be through a UN Youth Council. More than the Youth Delegate programme, the UN Youth Plenary, or the ECOSOC Youth Forum, we need a continuous body making recommendations and participating in the process. Nothing less will allow us to be at the table full time.
One particular event in which they already have proven a willingness to listen to youth was a Youth Lead Panel that saw well over one hundred young people tune in. Many spoke of their lives under COVID-19, others about police brutality. But one thing was even more common: the need for youth to rise up and take a stand using this year and our struggles as the launching point.

The biggest barriers to taking these stands are government refusal to listen to youth, resistance to change, and the limited number of outlets in which to stand up and be heard. This specific session suggested that the UN provide increased resources for the purpose of ensuring a rights-based modality and provide leadership and guidance on programs and proposals. UNA-USA is helping to overcome these barriers by providing youth leadership opportunities at UN conferences and advising student leaders.

We must remain steadfast and in our beliefs and stand together. Youth must be at the table. In the words of the immortal Shirley Chisolm, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”