7 October 2008
Item 55: Social development (including questions related to youth, ageing, disabled persons and the family)
Statement by Ms Elizabeth Shaw and Ms Melanie Poole, Australian Youth Representatives to the United Nations
“The future of the planet is underpinned by getting a good global agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009. All countries must take responsibility for reducing emissions,” said a 24 year old.
“The biggest thing for me is having more of an area for youth to meet and talk about the community and help each other and share dreams …” said a 15 year old.
“We are not isolated from the problems in the developing world. We’re a global community, and the health and well-being of those far away from us will impact on us whether we see the link or not,” said a 20 year old.
“We are proud”, said thousands of young Australians, when talking about the Australian government’s apology to Indigenous Australians on February 13 of this year.
Mr Chair –
These are the voices of young people around Australia; voices that we have travelled to each state and territory of our beautiful country to collect.
Consultation, inclusion and engagement of young people are paramount in order to represent young people, as we seek to do as Youth Representatives, as Governments, and as the United Nations.
We have met with over 5,000 young Australians as a part of a 5 month “Listening Tour”, speaking with students and workers, liberals and conservatives, young leaders and marginalised youth, refugees, environmentalists, union workers, homeless teenagers, young mothers, gay, lesbian and transgender youth, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Atheists.
A constant theme throughout Australia is the desire of young people to be able to participate and contribute, in a meaningful way, to their local community.
Social inclusion and civic engagement are basic tenets of a democracy. As former Secretary General Kofi Annan has said "No-one is born a good citizen, no nation is born a democracy … Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline ..."
Young people have always sought opportunities to participate within communities, and have blazed trails where there were none before. Young people have been vital in leading key social movements in areas such as civil rights, women’s rights, higher education and the anti-war movement. We need governments not simply working for us, but to facilitate opportunities for us to lead.
In May of this year, 100 young Australians demonstrated their fundamental role in shaping the future direction of our nation when they came to Parliament House for the 2020 Youth Summit, contributing to policy objectives in 10 key areas.
Young people have been instrumental in the development of the Australian Youth Forum, designed to create a clear and constant channel of communication between young people and the Federal Government, which was launched in Adelaide last week.
Young people have developed and administered the largest youth-run consultation of young people – a survey of 13,000 young Australians called “Youth Speak”, which turned the voices of young people into key advice to governments.
The key commonality between all these examples is the fact they were all led and driven by young people, for young people.
Mr Chair –
Young people continue to demonstrate that we are not simply the leaders of tomorrow, but are leading our communities today. Climate change, poverty, famine and war – these problems without borders remind us that it has never been more important for us to work together to reduce our carbon emissions, to seek diplomatic solutions to conflicts between and especially within states, and to meet the Millennium Development Goals.
Environmental sustainability and social participation should be central to every education system. We urge you to equip young people with the education and skills they need to face these challenges.
It is time to give young people a seat at the table, to further democracy and multi-lateralism, and in the interests of a fairer and more just world.
As we travelled throughout Australia this year, we wondered if we could find shared messages, interests or characteristics from three million young people of diverse backgrounds. We also reflected on meetings with this year’s youth delegates, who represent young people from all continents.
We learned that yes – there are distinct abilities shared by young people everywhere.
These include our optimism, honesty and, most importantly, courage to question. Young people are always at the forefront of change. And, in a world where global inequalities are enormous, where we must adapt to a rapidly changing environment and where violence and discrimination against women remain systemic, we know that fundamental change is needed.
An example of the ability of young people to propel change through questioning can be seen in the way young Australians view climate change. Climate change is very real to young Australians, especially those in drought affected farming areas who stand to lose everything.
But climate change also offers an unparalleled opportunity to build a more humane and sustainable global society. No nation can divorce its interest from that of its neighbours. None of our biggest challenges – cutting carbon emissions, changing our industrial practices, or lowering food and fuel prices, can be solved unilaterally.
There are Youth Climate Change Action groups in almost every school and university in Australia. They see Climate Change as a reason to ask questions. Questions like the ones thousands of young Australians requested that we ask you today – like why you are not rushing to address Climate Change.
Young people also ask us how ending extreme poverty can be so complex, even as markets expand. Why you bind yourselves to trade deals, but not to meeting targets for reducing the suffering of our human family. Why gender equality remains elusive.
We ask because to stop asking means accepting the demise of our world. We believe that you can do better - better than resolutions, better than recommendations. If you are as serious about humanity as you are about the global economy, your goal should be binding treaties.
You will say we are idealists, and we agree. This committee exists because of ideals, because the world’s collective dreaming created the Charter of the United Nations. Scepticism breeds self-interest. Idealism is the force behind change.
We are here because we share hopes and dreams. But how often do you reflect on them? It’s easy to get buried in details – in timelines, negotiations, formalities, ideology.
Young people remind you what you set out to do 63 years ago. Our voice is stark and persistent, honest and brave. Harness our idealism and constructive criticism with your experience to overcome cynicism and meet our shared challenges. So many decisions that determine the fate of today’s youth must be made in the next few short years. You risk failing to leave us any opportunity to manage the future.
We call on you to involve young people in your decision-making processes and in the delivery of services. Of 192 countries, only 17 have sent Youth Delegates this year. Give us a stronger, meaningful voice at the international level, and within UN agencies.
Mr Chair –
We call on you to bring us aboard – not as your passengers, but beside you at the wheel.