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Testimony from Jeanne V at the UN

In the framework of the High Level Political Forum, Jeanne, as an LP4Y representative, attended various panels and sessions at the United Nations Headquarters and share her thoughts with us

Jeanne Vigouroux

Every year in July, the UN High Level Political Forum gathers UN member states to review their advancement and progress on the 2030 Agenda which includes the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As representatives of the civil society, social organizations, members of the Economic and Social Council, are invited to attend panels, the general assembly and public sessions during these two weeks. In this framework, LP4Y ECOSOC team had the opportunity, for the very first time, to enter the UN headquarters physically after pandemic restrictions and online-only meetings and events.

I was asked to write down my first impressions and observations, to tell you what is going on there. So here is a personal fresh eye report. I hope it will lead to further common and fruitful discussions.

The first day started with the General Assembly and opening remarks from the ECOSOC president, followed by different statements. Until now, the LP4Y ECOSOC team was navigating between the different online panels and member states’ representatives interventions, NGO side events on zoom, we organized a few ourselves… Not so easy to figure out the best way of being useful and who and what we should target to make a difference. We heard from one another that it takes years for a social organization to achieve little successes. I remember an advertising specialist we met with John, telling us ironically (or not) that if we want to advocate, today it should be on Tik Tok. Still, with a “Catalyst spirit”, we decided to believe we have our place and can enable improvements here.

First, it was interesting to hear from a diverse and eclectic panel: World Bank, FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), economists, UN or Government representatives, etc. It is stimulating to hear from Finland, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Qatar, Burkina Faso, Sweden, etc. about their policy orientations and to compare. Many data and facts, economic and social studies, were shared. A lot of statements mentioned the consequences of the pandemic: it increased inequalities, we (the Governments and institutions) must invest and partner to build back better.

The ECOSOC president introduction was followed by interventions, keynotes, remarks, messages and even performances, from one and another. And I have not been bored at all.

When we got to hear from a 19-years old woman from Chile, with pink and purple hair, screaming in the mic on behalf of women that our uterus belongs to us, in front of diplomats in their suit and tie, and the applause among the civil society and all visitors, I wondered and asked myself: what is the United Nations purpose again? Discuss global issues. Ensure peace. When we listened to a K-pop music band, explaining that instead of investing in the metaverse and virtual ecosystems, we should ensure first that the real world is correctly managed… I thought that advocacy actually may be that. Wake up and shake minds? The street is not the sole space. Young activists understood it. Even within institutional and formal organizations, they take the stage. But it might not be time for politeness and diplomacy anymore? If educating, raising awareness, thinking and brainstorming is a start, is it time to alert, insurge ourselves, call those who make or unmake policies and impact people's lives for action? How to catalyze change, nowadays? We have all seen Sri Lankan protests pictures…

After all, extreme poverty and exclusion are violence, and break the UN assumptions, so should we, representatives of the civil society and of the most vulnerable, as well, dare be offensive and have violent words? These few questions came to my mind.

Without quoting anyone, some messages from Governments proudly talking about programs they put in place to answer the pandemic crisis can sometimes let a bit doubtful and skeptical because national decision makers, including in countries we operate in, govern in a questionable way. What is our role as a social movement? Can we decently congratulate these speeches? How to discern and find the balance between personal convictions, values, beliefs, and concrete actions, partnerships and synergies we can modestly work on here?

What’s the difference between militantism, activism, and advocacy? What do we want to do and what should be our position? What is our final goal here? Is this only about employment of 17-24 years old or should we go further?

Mr Kailash Satyarthi, Indian SDG Advocate, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, spoke on behalf of invisible young people. “When I will see slave children, these young girls I know, smiling again and get hope: only at this moment I will say our policies are successful”. But the matter is not just to know if there is a crisis or not, there will always be. The question is not the crisis, but the decisions we take. Same here: after identifying the challenge – LP4Y did 12 years ago – let’s suggest solutions. A representative of the civil society highlighted that Youth will never have a space in society if they don’t fight for it, they need to organize and set an agenda. Let’s support them in this journey.

Here, no anger, no blame, no offense, no radical political views. Indeed, that would not be productive. Then let's take the path of solution-oriented statements, positive recommendations, impactful testimonies and wake up calls. Let’s consider all stakeholders inputs, best practices, and share data, expertise and stories from the field. Even if, sometimes, the challenge is so big, frustrating, that we wish to quicken the pace for faster changes… The DNA of LP4Y is also to argue in a polite and courteous way, with humility.

Here are some key information we now all know:

According to the World Bank, since 2020, 100 additional million people have fallen into extreme poverty, which is unprecedented. Antonio Guterres, General Secretary of the United Nations, reminds that the poorest people do not live in low income countries today, but in middle income countries.

Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

Despite this, today, 61% of the entire workforce of the world is in informal jobs, without any social insurance, and nearly 282 million youth are not in employment, education or training (the vast majority are women) (ILO 2021).

If we know the causes of exclusion – listening to the youths for years, observing and witnessing it in the field, it is complex, these causes are multiple – we also know the consequences of this exclusion if not fixed quickly. Then, this is not only about charity, this is not only a question of being generous humanists fighting for social justice. It is all about pragmatism and responsibility, because a society excluding half of its young generation is heading straight for disaster. This is actually a matter of collective awareness and general interest.

For years, both networks initiated by LP4Y (Youth Inclusion Network and Youth 4 Change Network) have been building capacity and creating the space for companies and social organizations to express the challenges they face, share their experience and best practices, and think together on how to leverage on what works and what does not.

Here is LP4Y’s statement since the beginning: we need to act collectively, jointly with local governments, communities, corporations, to foster the social and professional inclusion of the Youth. This being said: raising, highlighting, requesting what? How to benefit from this UN stage at best? Above our convictions and concrete solutions and examples of what works in an operational way, what should we address in terms of policies?

For a few weeks now, we initiated an advocacy brainstorming to define it according to LP4Y’s initial vision and values, and draw up step by step our blueprints and roadmap.

We can be inspired by what was implemented in some countries, such as Wales. The YIN team reported from the ChangeNow Forum is Paris, that this is the sole country which has named a Commissioner for Future Generations, and has implemented legal requirements to consider the long-term well-being of the planet in this regard (such as the Well being of Future Generations Act 2015; or the 7 Well being goals). Anja Fortuna, Vice President of the European Youth Forum, advocates for a global instrument and framework setting out the particular rights of young people (it only exists for the -18 years old through the UN Convention for the rights of the Child). There are benches of good ideas to explore and push better and more investments on people, and Youth.

Since we joined LP4Y, we are all advocates. Wherever we are, whatever our mission or position is, we witness Youth condition and can’t do anything else than act, collaborate, testify and tell the truth – at least facts - around us. What if the UN was the next step to scale up and raise Youth voice on a larger and global scale? ATD 4th World Movement, one of our allies here, understood it: listening to the invisible and wireless ones is at the heart of their advocacy strategy. “Nothing for us without us.” During the panel on education, the authentic testimony of a precarious mother ATD invited, from Latin America, explaining the struggle to raise a child and ensure he can realize his full potential at school, while not having enough money to eat, was impactful and a fresh reminder between two generalist statements on digital literacy.

In September, Neeraj Kumar, LP4Y graduate, Delhi Star Club president, now catalyst himself, is coming to NYC to participate in a one-week UN Camp. Coming from a marginalized environment, he struggled to find a job because of his disability and excluded and underprivileged background. But he never lost hope and motivation, he is running his own tuition center in Delhi, to give back to his community. Part of the 10% young leaders selected, Neeraj will work on a solution addressing one of the SDGs (decent work), coached by mentors, and will pitch it in front of an expert panel. Amazing opportunity.

Finally, this is definitely the meaning of our presence here and the target we should have: giving the Youth a floor, as often as we can, in order to – when addressing topics of inclusion, gender equality or youth employment – let this space to the most excluded, youth themselves, the better witnesses and ambassadors of their community. So, as a panelist said, we benefit from this “talent and gift of Youth” and bet on them. Their future, their voice.

Our advocacy speech, including to the UN, is collective, be part of it. If anything (or anyone) comes to your mind, and you think it should be raised or shown or heard or whatever on a larger scale, please share it! We may not change the world, but we’ll contribute our best.

Together we can (achieve more), so let’s all boost and shake this new ecosystem.


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