It is wonderful to be here today at the African Youth Development Summit to talk with you about youth leadership, the participation of young women and men in Africa’s development, and the obstacles that stand in their way.
Globally, today’s young people are a historic phenomenon — the largest cohort of young people that our world has ever seen.
There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world today, and Africa is the youngest continent, where young women and men constitute more than 60% of the total population.
But young people face serious challenges in today’s world. They are often at the forefront of global trends, including global challenges.
In some countries, young people are confronted by conflict and terrorism.
In others, they suffer the effects of economic exclusion and growing inequalities, deprived of quality education, skills and health services.
Young people are seeing their pathways to participation blocked and their rights denied.
Perhaps most damaging of all, young people are witnessing the manmade destruction of our natural environment. They can see that governments and others are failing to respond to the challenge of climate change with the urgency and ambition that is needed. They know that for the sake of their future, we need to transform our economies and embrace new, sustainable patterns of production and consumption.
But, as Madiba once said, “When people are determined, they can overcome anything”.
And with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, we now have road maps for social and economic transformation, around which we can unite, and demand and drive change at local and global levels.
Dear young people, dear friends,
The Africa We Want will not be possible without the full participation and of Africa’s young people, particularly those who face barriers – including young women and girls.
For decades at the United Nations, we have sought to work with and for young people.
But today, at a time of mounting attacks on multilateralism and international cooperation, we recognize that our best hopes for global peace and prosperity on a healthy planet lie in the hands of young people. We need your leadership, participation and engagement, right across the globe.
That is why in September this year, the Secretary General launched the United Nations Youth Strategy: Youth 2030. A strategy led by a young woman with courage of her convictions – our Special Envoy Jayathma.
It seeks to make the UN a true leader in working with and for young people: in understanding their needs, in helping to put their ideas into action, in ensuring their views inform our processes both at country level and at UN Headquarters.
Youth 2030 will strengthen the United Nation’s ability to support young people – their participation in society, their ability to secure employment, the realization of their rights and their role as agents of peace in fragile contexts.
The Strategy highlights access to education and health services, as well as climate action, which are foundational pillars for young people seeking to advance in the world.
We are delighted to support women and men as they raise their voices and lead the transformational change that is needed – from communities to governments and on the international stage.
Campaigns promoting access to sexual and reproductive health services are tackling important issues like menstrual health, that have been a taboo subject for far too long.
I am pleased that we are highlighting one such campaign here today.
Lack of support for menstrual health can keep girls out of school and the workplace and out of leadership roles, with devastating consequences that can last lifetimes and across generations. It contributes to discrimination and to the marginalization of women and girls.
Educating both girls and boys about menstruation as a normal biological process is the first step towards addressing these issues.
Providing affordable and environmentally-friendly sanitary products and clean water to manage menstrual hygiene and reduce health risks is a very significant contribution. I experienced this first-hand while travelling to India with the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council.
Today, some 60 million 10-year-old girls around the world stand at the threshold of adolescence and menstruation. Let’s do everything we can to give them control over their bodies and empower them, their families, their communities and ultimately, their nations.
Dear young people, dear friends,
My final message to all of you gathered here today and for those following online via social media:
I am counting on you to be the change agents and torchbearers that we so desperately need. The dignity that we want for our young women and men begins with each and every one of us. It will be a journey, the outcome of which will depend on how you travel that road to 2030.
I believe that with the amazing power of Africa’s young people, the Africa We Want is possible.
Let’s make it happen.!