‘United Nations is Your Advocate’, Working as Never Before to Include Youth, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Economic and Social Council Conference

4 May 2012

‘United Nations is Your Advocate’, Working as Never Before to Include Youth, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Economic and Social Council Conference

4 May 2012
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

‘United Nations is Your Advocate’, Working as Never Before to Include Youth,

Deputy Secretary-General Tells Economic and Social Council Conference

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to the Economic and Social Council Conference on Creating a Sustainable Future:  Empowering Youth with Better Job Opportunities, in New York, 4 May:

Let me begin by thanking the President of the Economic and Social Council for organizing this important Conference today.  And let me also thank the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as well as the United Nations Department of Public Information, for all of their support.

Finally, and importantly, let me especially welcome the presence of so many young people, especially those who have travelled long distances to join us, as well as those who are participating online.  We are eager to hear from you.  Not only that, we need to hear from each and every one of you — since we want to bring your ideas and your perspectives to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development next month in Rio de Janeiro.

More than 100 Presidents and Prime Ministers will be at Rio, along with thousands of other Government officials.  But, the total turnout is expected to be more than 50,000 people — including non-governmental organization leaders, academics, business executives and representatives from key groups — including youth.  Those of you who will be there may want to mark your calendars for the Youth Blast — which is free and open to all people under the age of 30.  I have passed that age limit, but I will be there with you all in spirit!

But, whether or not you travel to Brazil, the Conference will not succeed without the imprint of youth.  More and more people understand that we have to empower young people to create a sustainable future.

Just last month, we invited youth to an interactive session of the Commission on Population and Development.  Young people from around the world had a chance to ask questions — hard questions about reproductive health, overcoming poverty and organizing for change.

However, the best part was the format:  their questions were not answered by United Nations officials.  Instead, their questions were answered by youth leaders.  My colleagues and I were there to listen and learn.  We heard frustration and we heard hope.  Most of all, we heard a willingness — and indeed, a real eagerness — to contribute to advancing the work of the United Nations.  That dialogue was just one example of how the United Nations is striving to connect more often and more meaningfully with the planet’s youth.

This year’s United Nations World Youth Report is a remarkable document; it was written based on an e-discussion with young people around the world.  The report concludes with the powerful words of one of the young contributors, who said, “We want to make a difference.  We want a chance to work.  We want to prove ourselves.”

Young people need good, decent jobs to build their lives, to learn and to grow.  The United Nations is trying to help countries to promote jobs-rich growth.  At the same time, we are aware that to succeed in the workforce, youth need a good education.  The world has pushed hard to get primary-age children into school.  Now is the time to make sure they stay in the classroom through adolescence.  Because this is so important, the Secretary-General will launch a major global education initiative later this year.  We have to give all students the opportunity to get a formal education.

At the same time, we value informal education, like peer-to-peer networking.  I have seen the power of youth to educate one another.  In my own country, [ United Republic of] Tanzania, I visited a teen centre where youth answer their friends’ questions about sexuality, health and happiness.  Young people around the world are often the best resource for each other.

And better educated youth need better job opportunities.  People without jobs are forced to sell off their possessions.  They have real worries about the future — not just the years ahead, but even the next bill, the next meal.  And they are right to be anxious.  The longer they go without an income, the more vulnerable they become.  They have to give up essentials, including medicine and food.  They may lose their homes.  And under those circumstances, it takes a great effort not to lose all hope.

In recent years, global unemployment among youth was over 12 per cent — more than double the rate for adults.  The situation is even worse in the Middle East, where unemployment hits one in four youth.  We have to pay special attention to young women — our future scientists, Chief Executive Officers, Presidents, and Secretaries-General!

In the Arab region, unemployment among young women is nearly triple the world average.  Getting these women into jobs starts with giving them the education and skills they need to compete.  But, we also have to tackle the root causes of discrimination, particularly against women.  We have to change mindsets.  In truth, the experiences women have, often make them excellent candidates for leadership.

We must also look at how to better link skills with job opportunities.  But, youth deserve more than instructions on how to perform in a job.  We have to nurture their ideals.  That means educating young people to become global citizens.  Already, individuals are connecting around the world through the power of social media.  Youth are mobilizing as never before.  Young people can drive the global push for green growth.  As entrepreneurs, consumers and leaders, they can adopt new lifestyles that respect our planet.  They can promote trends that encourage sustainable development.

I hope today’s dialogues come up with concrete recommendations that we can take to Rio and beyond.  As one participant at the Population and Development dialogue put it, we need to move from “paper to people”.

The Secretary-General has made empowering youth a priority in his action agenda for the next five years.  We plan to build on advances generated by the 1995 World Programme of Action for Youth by developing a system-wide action plan to deepen our focus on young people in critical areas — like employment, entrepreneurship, political inclusion and human rights.

We will appoint a new Special Advisor on Youth — a global advocate for youth empowerment including at the United Nations.  At the same time, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) are creating a United Nations youth volunteers initiative to help young people build skills.  Across our agenda, from work on peace and security to delivering justice, to promoting human rights and advancing development, the United Nations is working as never before to include the voices of youth.

Maybe some of you have heard about one of the many events taking place on the road to Rio — a Global Youth Music Contest.  You can go to global-rockstar.net to vote for your favourite videos.  I am not going to tell you my favourite — because I do not want to be accused of influencing elections!  But, I do want to leave you with the words of the contest slogan, which I fully endorse:  “Let the music talk, let the rhythm play and let the world know what the youth have to say!”

The United Nations is your advocate.  We are glad you are here today.  And we depend on you to help us succeed.  So, we look forward to seeing you in Rio and beyond!  Thank you for your attention and come back to the United Nations again soon.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.