Do Young People Have a Voice in the UN?


The follow up process to the implementation of the UN’s Global Goals (the SDGs); the signing of the Paris Agreement; Sweden being elected to the Security Council. These were some of the highlights from my eventful internship at the Swedish Mission to the United Nations in the New York Headquarters earlier this year. A place where World leaders, diplomats, activists and celebrities gather to take collective actions for Peace and Security, Sustainable Development and Human Rights. A career dream that came true.

During my internship I participated in some meetings and conferences that focused on Youth and Development – and I was positively surprised to see that young people’s importance is becoming more recognized in the UN-system. As the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated at some of these meetings:

– Youth are more than victims of poverty and economic downturn. They can be agents of change. Young people are the leaders of today.

Thus, young people are key actors for achieving Agenda 2030 and the Global Goals. In recent years, some initiatives have been taken in the UN, which aims to include youth. Since 2013, Ahmad Alhendawi has been appointed as an UN Youth Envoy. His role is to emphasize the needs and the rights of young people as well as giving advices to the Secretary General on youth issues.

But although the UN is making progress and has begun to understand the significance of youth inclusion, one could ask to what extent there is real representation of youth in the UN system? And who is (and who is not) able to participate? During my internship I noted three concerns that I would like to put forward.

Firstly, at the UN High-level Forum for Sustainable Development in July 2016, only six youth delegates from six of the UN’s 193 member states participated, meaning that the majority of the world’s countries did not have young representatives.

Secondly, at the majority of UN meetings youth delegates are not present. The young people who may be participating in these meetings are mostly interns – who are representing a country or an organization, thus, having the task to report back to their mission or organization on what have been said in the meeting. They do not have a voice. Furthermore, there are very few people who have the possibility to do an internship at the UN. The interns rarely receive financial support, meaning that only those people who are able to finance their own internship, can apply for it. Unfortunately, this excludes those people who are generally most marginalized, namely the poor.

Thirdly, a “popular form” of inclusion and participation (not only in the UN, but in general terms) is to add for instance youth-participation as a separate event. This could mean inviting young people to separate youth events, in which the majority of the participants are young people – but in which the influence over the outcomes, the decision making power and the ability to contribute to progressive actions on the issue, might be limited.

This is not to say that experienced experts with years of knowledge are not important, but simply suggesting that more diversity of perspectives and representation could benefit all and result in sustainable development.

To end with a positive note, at some of the UN meetings I participated in, there were young people invited as speakers – telling us interesting and heartbreaking stories about their struggles for Human Rights. I particularly remember a young woman who had become a victim of an acid attack, and had her whole body burned with acid. She proudly stood in front of us in the General Assembly hall and she told us about her struggle to survive the acid attack – and how she later had found the strength to continue working for Women’s Rights. A young heroine.

To conclude, half of the world’s population today is under 30 years old. We, the young peoples, play a crucial role in tackling Global Challenges and achieving Sustainable Development.

Thus, more positive actions and initiatives need to be taken to truly include us and give us a voice that is heard. We are not only the leaders of tomorrow; we are the leaders of today. We need to be invited, listened to, and included in these processes – and be motivated to really be the first generation that can eradicate poverty and tackle climate change.

Nationality: Global Citizen

Source: GlobalGiving

Source: GlobalGiving

No matter what global problem you are dreading, whether it’s the elimination of poverty, whether it’s the creation of peace, whether its solving environmental energy problems, the solution- whatever it is- multiple solutions, the solutions always include education, never is it without an education component and sometimes cannot be done without education.

– Nicholas Negroponte

Growing up, my parents constantly affirmed, “Education is the passport to the world of opportunities.” I believed them, and I still do. As a teacher today, I tell my students the same thing.

In a privileged country like Singapore, education is a determined right of all citizens. The moment we step into Primary One, an EduSave account is set up in the student’s name by the government. Every year thereafter until the students reaches the age of sixteen, SGD 200 is credited into the account annually. The fund can be used by the student to pay for tuition fees and any other government-approved co-curricular activities and school trips. As of 2015, according to Organisation of Economic Co-Operation and Development, Singapore tops the global school ranking.

This is all well and good for the small city-state. My bigger concern today is, how do we get this world-recognised education to every student on the planet, especially when we constantly demand that education is a basic human right. How is it possible that in today’s globalised and technologically advanced world, that the right to education is based on a handful of pre-determined factors? Factors that include; where the child was born, their ethnic affiliations and even what their last name is.

Currently, more than 124 million children and adolescents are out of school. UNESCO predicts that this number is on the rise. This is a clear indication that the system we have in place, is not working and must be changed.

It is time to rethink the system because obviously, the global education system we have set for ourselves no longer serves today’s world. If we continue to demand from governments whose priority is not their citizen’s education, then, we must acknowledge that a clear violation of a right has occurred and must be amended.

It is time to hand out those passports in order that all children, regardless of their race, nationality, place of birth, or social creed, get access to a basic primary education. We, as the youths and adults, have the obligation to at least do one thing right – to provide our children, the future of the world, with opportunities to make this planet a better place.

#4 Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all

Goal-4Education is the fundamental principle that enables citizens to develop their own perspective of the world. As Malala Yousazfai said at the United Nations, “one child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world”. Education gifts people with a voice, it allows understanding of your rights and duties, and it provides a person with the knowledge to lead a healthy and fulfilling life. However, despite the importance of receiving an education, in 2012, 58 million children were still out of school. Moreover, there are huge gender gaps in youth literacy rates. According to the United Nations 60 per cent of the adults and youth who lack basic reading and writing skills are women. It is crucial to think over this data and to take measures in this regard.

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Making a better world with a better education

The Model International Delegate team with President Tjalke Weber at the UNYANET General Assembly 2014

The Model International Delegate team with President Tjalke Weber at the UNYANET General Assembly 2014

Education has two faces: learning and teaching.

People learn from each other as they teach each other. This means that from the moment you have learned and understood something, you can teach it.

The principle falls in line with the words of the American author and humourist, Mark Twain:

“It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others!”

This quote is one of Model International Delegate’s philosophies to share something meaningful with people, so that they can pass it to others in return.

We, at MID, see education as a game, an important one; where there are winners and losers.

Why do people fail where others succeed?

Resources often make the difference. Specific knowledge is something you purchase and this fact brings a new element into the game: wealth.

Individuals can be rich either with their money, or with their knowledge; therefore creating a circle. People with money can afford higher education and people with knowledge can generate higher income. MID is there to hide the money matters in order to give everybody a chance of becoming something more.

Model United Nations around the world are very good schools. They often are student-led conferences for large scale youth participation and established at arelatively low cost. MUNs give every attendee the opportunity to improve his or her research and writing ability, analytical thinking, and communications skills.

Albert Einstein once said:

“The only source of knowledge is experience.”

Model United Nations is all about reversing the faces of education, giving young minds, notwithstanding their socio-economical background, the opportunity to learn from each other, teach each other, and therefore, impact their own destiny.

MUNs are one of Model International Delegate’s main focuses. Though they are excellent tools to educate people, some challenges prevail.

MUNs around the world have no common grounds. It’s a little bit like: “Do whatever you want”. This is a problem for the quality of MUNs and for the UN members that are concerned about how MUNs take place.

That is why we collaborate with organizations such as UNYANET and UNDPI in order to establish internationally recognized standards.

This way, MUNs will have a better visibility towards the United Nations and other institutions. Improved RoPs will increase conference quality and participation. And so on, our educational target will be reached.

Of course, working on these standards is not our exclusive activity. Model International Delegate is involved in several other activities with little or no relation towards MUNs. At the end, it’s all about inclusive and participative education.

We believe simulations and role-plays are the best tools for sharing knowledge and empowering one other. So, you can consider MID like a knot between the strings in the MUN world. In collaboration with the concerned UN departments, UNYANET, and with MUN delegations all around the world we want to build, together, a stronger,
safer and better future for everybody.

To conclude, the most important thing to remember about MID is the word “everybody”. MID is a tool for everybody, made by everybody. You are part of it from the moment you embrace it:

“Making a better world with a better education”

Matthew FAIRCLOUGH
Consultant at Model International Delegate