The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were born out of the desire of countries around the world to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs”. The promise to guarantee the rights of our future generations to meet their needs is what links the idea of “youth” to the SDGs in a fundamental way.
The reason to put “youth” in quotes and call it an idea is that the future encompasses vast stretches of time, attracting stakeholders in droves, inflating the number of people who find themselves crammed under the umbrella of a “future generation”. This overflowing nature of the stakeholder basket when it comes to the SDGs is more than today’s political leaders are willing to work with – it’s probably more than development leaders want to think about. We have seen it in the slow response to the climate crisis; we saw it in the main criticism of the SDGs – that they fail to ignore local context. Discussions on the SDGs often veer towards the exclusion of marginalized communities from traditional economic activities, thereby excluding them from the fruits of development. None of this bodes well for the promise of not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
One only has to look at the SDGs themselves to understand why youth engagement is important. The term “climate crisis”, for example, evokes very different reactions in different age groups, which is understandable. For generations who have already lived their lives surrounded by greenery, breathing non-toxic air, crisis is often still in the future. But the 20-year-olds who were born in Dhaka, whose lungs have known nothing but polluted air, clearly care more about the climate. Climate action (SDG 13) means very different things to older and younger people, and I think it’s clear that the younger person cares more about sustainability. The future is tied to the lives and existence of young people, and this kind of commitment to purpose should be used to improve the lives of future generations.
Consider gender equality (SDG 5) and the dramatically varying expectations of it across generations. Grasping the changing tides of feminism and the new ideas it includes with each new wave is a challenge, but it is a challenge that can only be met if young women are not only given the right to express themselves, but also space to implement their ideas. . The constant shift in gender roles across generations must be understood to achieve SDG 5. Add to that the layer of complexity that comes with the varying views on gender equality in different parts of the world, or even different regions in the same country, and it is clear that the challenge of achieving gender equality will require a lot of hard work and grassroots youth participation. For these young people, this shift in understanding is not new; it is a lived reality, and this perspective must be taken into account if the goal is to achieve lasting gender equality.
Decent work and economic growth (SDG 8) is an interesting goal because of the direct nature of its relationship to youth empowerment. Young people cannot be empowered if they cannot fend for themselves and survive the economic realities of the times in which they operate. But discussions on this SDG tend to evolve towards a skills gap or a mismatch of the supply of skills to what employers demand. These ideas are fundamentally unfair to young people, who spend about two decades of their lives in an education system built by the older generation, only to come out and hear that almost everything they have learned is outdated. Young people are expected to participate and bring their new ideas to the table, but to get to that table they are being asked to learn skills that many of them don’t have the resources to learn. . Without skills, there is no decent work and, as the SDGs suggest, decent work and economic growth go hand in hand. Lack of skills and resources is a chicken and egg problem, and employers, educators and policy makers must come together to break this cycle of misery. What should follow is a demographic of young people with the right skills or the opportunity to acquire them.
But that’s not the end of the story. Youth empowerment cannot be limited to the idea of youth participation or simply extending opportunities to young people. While everyone agrees that young people are essential to achieving sustainable goals, they must also understand that what was decent work a generation ago may not be decent work today. today. We must ensure that today’s young people have enough – enough to take care of themselves and enough to be able to take care of future generations. If a young person is expected to rise through the ranks of power and get to the top before they can impose change, their youth will disappear the moment they get there. They must be given the opportunity to worry about the future now, while they are still young, because worrying about the future has not been the strong point of humanity so far.
On September 1, Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), organized a conference on “The SDGs and Youth in Bangladesh: current perspectives and prospects for the future”. The event was organized in association with the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), ActionAid and Plan International, among other notable organizations. These conferences are important to highlight why youth participation is vital to the SDGs and to ensure that young people are equipped with what they need to lead this world towards a prosperous future for all.
Azmin Azran is editor-in-chief of SHOUT, The star of the day weekly youth supplement.