The first Global Forum on Youth Policies has just happened in Baku, Azerbaijan. And it was a political bonanza! There are many potential angles to write about, which no doubt will be. For example, how our sector needs to do a much better job with regards to inclusivity and the issue of youth radicalisation; or the lack of real participation at the forum itself (acknowledged by many of those organising); or indeed Azerbaijan’s human rights (such as the imprisonment of young activists). And then there are the nuggets of inspiration, such as the work shared by Metropolis Youth in Iran, or young African researchers, and of course the young men and women in Sierra Leone and Liberia at the forefront of responding to the Ebola crisis – quite literally the hospital janitors and cleaners.
As you can see quite a forum. I am going to briefly reflect on one aspect that could have been unpacked a little further, and that is: how can young people (and adult champions of youth issues), collectively work, to start or implement policy frameworks. I am not talking about party politics here.
What do I mean by this? Well, the ways that young people can as a group (so not necessarily with a chair or figurehead) advocate and champion youth policy. For example in ActionAid, with regard to initiating a national youth policy: the collective lobbying at parliamentary committees by young colleagues and partners in DRC. This is connected to provincial level participatory (reflection action) processes, that as my colleague Nicole puts it; is
a way to bring it closer to the people.
Or, when there is a national youth policy that needs strengthening, the use of anti-corruption caravans – such as those in Uganda – as one way of creating a counter narrative (an alternative) on a stagnant policy. One way of striving to improve upon existing youth policy promises, by enabling young men and women to have a critical awareness of the power structures that exist around them. But I think we can do more.
There must be alternatives to the rise of individualisation and self-promotion in the youth sector, at all levels. It can be stifling. It was great to hear (and occasionally see) youth ministers joining in the somewhat smaller break-out sessions at the forum. Indeed, to get over 50 ministers to the forum, certainly offers hope in terms of the beginning of bringing together a collective of inter-generational youth policy workers. It was also great to hear of the Network of Youth Policy Practitioners in Africa forming.
Lastly, in the spirit of the forum, I would like to thank everyone who shared with me their insights, but actually, I think I want to keep those young hospital cleaners and janitors in your mind. Young people in Sierra Leone and Liberia, dis-empowered, not only fighting the social injustices of the poverty they live in, but now this deadly virus. #IamaLiberiannotavirus