UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, and the head of its urban development agency, UN-Habitat, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, were in Spain in the context of World Cities Day, observed annually on 31 October, and the event took advantage of their visit.
Young people are an integral part of a growing network of local and global voices uniting around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which promise a more just, equitable and “greener” world by the 2030 deadline.
A seat at the table
As strong advocates for climate action and social justice, they have a key role in efforts to achieve sustainable development that benefits both people and the planet.
After delivering a few opening remarks, Ms. Mohammed underscored why it was necessary to have youth at the table, especially given the current global crises.
The UN continues to highlight how factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency and conflicts, including fallout from the war in Ukraine, are affecting millions and putting the SDGs in jeopardy.
The Deputy Secretary-General spoke of how youth and gender must be mainstreamed across the UN system and reflected in all its work.
Ms. Mohammed also asked her audience how she and the UN can support them.
Leaders of tomorrow
With young people comprising more than 60 per cent of the global population, and some 70 per cent of all city dwellers, they are both city innovators and the leaders of tomorrow, said Ms. Sharif.
She recalled that as far back as the Habitat III UN conference on housing and sustainable urban development, held in Quito, Ecuador, in 2016, young people came up with their own benchmark to review global progress thus far.
UN entities in Spain were encouraged to invite youth representatives from different sectors to participate in the dialogue.
Knowledge and advocacy
They included Lina Amir, youth representative from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, who shared her perspective from the health and prevention sector. She spoke about how young people are discouraged from taking part in politics, for example, due to factors such as fear and insecurity.
Ms. Amir suggested that knowledge is necessary to overcome this, and decision makers should create more programmes that help young people gain confidence. She added that more intergenerational spaces need to be established to find common solutions, while dedicated spaces must be created to incorporate youth opinions in political debates.
José Martín from the non-profit CIFAL Málaga, said promoting youth leadership requires two things: training and advocacy.
Youth should gain a deep understanding of the world, and of environmental, social and economic sustainability, as well as the 2030 Agenda as a roadmap for the future, he said, and this training should be mainstreamed across all educational levels – from kindergarten to university.
Advocacy should take place through dynamic and practical workshops, where young people become leaders and can share their opinions and perspectives.
UN belongs to youth
In her closing remarks, Ms. Mohammed stated that every generation needs to be proactive.
Today’s young people have social media platforms at their disposal, and while these can be great communications tools, she warned that they can cause people to have a narrow view of things, instead of seeing the wider world and multiple perspectives.
She spoke of the importance of representation, and the need to open spaces for youth, adding that young people themselves should also make their voices heard.
The Deputy Secretary-General said the UN must also let young people speak, and really listen to them.
She agreed that an intergenerational conversation is needed, as well as new forms of community that cast aside the silos that separate us across society, such as young and old, parliamentarians and voters, for example.
Finally, she reminded participants that the UN belongs to youth, so they themselves must make the UN their own, and reshape it. Democracy also belongs to the young, she added, but lately many do not vote, meaning they are not represented.
She called for youth to defend democracy, fight for it, and safeguard youth rights.