(WOMENSENEWS)– Next year marks the end of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight goals agreed to by nearly 200 governments to end poverty by 2015.
While there have been some advances, the MDGs are far from being achieved worldwide, especially when it comes to young women and girls.
MDG No. 3 on gender equality and MDG No. 5, on maternal health, are the two goals for which the least progress has been made.
Could the involvement of more young people–male and female–on such issues help?
Certainly young people who recently came from across regions and movements to gather in Hong Kong in June think so.
At that meeting we strategized around common priorities for development and how to include them in the new agenda, which governments are expected to set in September 2015, when they meet at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
What many advocates and governments agree on is that young people – including young women – need to be included in the remaining stages of the process and agenda setting. As the largest population of young people to date and with particular needs and experiences, the Post-2015 Development Agenda will significantly impact the next decade or so of our lives.
‘We Want In’
As the current MDGs fall away with their 2015 end date, we want to help shape the Post-2015 Development Agenda. This time, we want in.
The MDGs were created without input from the people that they would most involve and affect. Members of government and civil society were left out of the process. And young people – who currently make up 1.8 billion of the world’s population – were excluded from defining the MDGs themselves.
The encouraging news is that the post-2015 process is much more inclusive; for the past two years, governments have been meeting among one another and with communities to come up with what’s next.
At our three-day meeting in Hong Kong, young advocates from around the world discussed the key issues that we wanted to see based on our unique experiences and expertise.
Some of these priorities may sound familiar: employment, education, health and gender equality, including the particular needs of young women and girls. All that’s been said before, but we have something to add, from our generational vantage point.
Take, for instance, the MDGs that focused on achieving universal access to primary education. In Hong Kong, participants agreed that is not enough. We say young people’s guaranteed education should extend to secondary education, with access to affordable post-secondary education.
We also say that education should not only be relevant for employment. It should focus on equipping young people with the necessary information and skills to live full and healthy lives. And that includes access to comprehensive sexuality education and the removal of barriers young women and girls often face in attending school. Only 40 percent of all countries have addressed school completion for pregnant girls, according to the 2014 UN ICPD Global Review Report.
Changed Work Environments
Participants also emphasized the importance of equal, non-discriminatory and non-exploitative working environments for all young people, including young women and young people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identities.
We discussed these and other priorities as interconnected.
In order to access our rights to employment and education we know that we need to guarantee and require access to affordable, if not free, essential health services.
While health is currently a proposed goal within the post-2015 agenda, many governments have pushed back against sexual and reproductive health and rights. This is a problem for young people – especially adolescents – who face challenges in accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services worldwide.
Modern contraception, sexually transmitted infection and HIV prevention and care, safe and legal abortion services and maternal health services are among the services young advocates are commonly demanding in this new development framework.
To lead healthy lives, we need these services to be youth-friendly non-discriminatory, non-judgmental, confidential, autonomous and rights-based.
For young women, that means that all women, regardless of their age, orientation or marital status, have equal access to these services free of discrimination.
Like education, employment and health, gender equality is crosscutting: the four priorities are linked. Globally, young women and girls as well as young lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people continue to face barriers because of their gender.
In too many countries, enrolment and completion of school is higher among boys than girls; discrimination against LGBT people creates barriers to employment; adolescent girls face specific gender-based discrimination and violence; and early and child marriages and female genital mutilation remain surprisingly common.
Are you a young advocate looking to get involved? Join the Major Group for Children and Youth or follow the process @youth_coalition #post2015. To learn more about the Post-2015 Development Agenda and young people’s rights, visit www.youthcoalition.org.
Ani Colekessian is a young feminist born in Canada. She has experience in women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights at both the U.N. and CSO level and was the program and communications officer for the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. Learn more at www.youthcoalition.org or follow @youth_coalition. Nadia Rajaram is a women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate born and based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. With her training in epidemiology, she has been involved in monitoring and research work at the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW). Find out more at www.arrow.org.my or @ARROW_Women.
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