“Elbows Out” for Youth at the UN

This blog was written collaboratively by Noni Nabors, Candy Lin, Kaila Borrelli, Katelyn Ling, Ariel Mishkin, & Landon Reeves – for the BCCIC Youth Delegation to the UN High-Level Political Forum

Creating Space

We are not here to be the voice of those who do not have one, but we need to be the elbows that create space for more diverse voices to be heard.”

These were some of the opening remarks from Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Envoy on Youth to the UN Secretary-General, at the BCCIC side event, “Youth Leadership For Sustainable Cities and Communities: Engaging the Public for Action on SDG 11.” This event complimented the BCCIC bootcamp mandate by displaying the need for diverse voices and authentic engagement with youth. Over the course of the day, we met with Canadian Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, hosted an event on SDG 11, had lunch with Mayor Berry Vrbanovic from Kitchener, Ontario, and questioned Canada’s youth engagement on the country’s Voluntary National Review as it was presented. In all of these events, the BCCIC youth delegation – with the help of different leaders – created space for youth voices to be heard at the United Nations.

Engaging Youth for Action

The “Youth Leadership” side event was held at the Permanent Mission of Canada, in collaboration with the youth organization, Check Your Head. Minister Duclos and Wickramanayake were both in attendance to listen and learn rather than speak for youth – an opportunity that seems rare in the United Nations. The event highlighted inclusion and meaningful engagement with youth while also bringing attention to existing youth initiatives that are working within the SDG framework from an SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities) perspective.

Finding ways to include youth voices that are traditionally marginalized emerged as a common theme, with several youth bringing up the need to make these forums more accessible by increasing transparency in the selection process for youth delegates. Youth from around the world, including Tunisia, Germany, the US, and Canada shared examples of how processes can be better designed to include youth, including providing early mentorship opportunities, funding for entry-level work and internships, and compensation for travel and outreach in local communities. We hope that this recurring theme of accessibility will be recognized as a key issue to policy shapers as an issue that is urgent and important to youth in Canada.

Youth at the Table

The BCCIC youth delegation had the incredible opportunity to have a discussion with Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the head of Canada’s new “SDG unit.” Three BCCIC youth delegates – Ariel Mishkin, Kaila Borrelli, and Helen Garbiec – as well as other youth Laveza Khan, Jake Stika, Eugenia Ochoa, and Nikki Fraser, were asked to provide opinions and perspectives on how to engage youth on the SDGs. During this roundtable discussion, we discussed a wide range of issues, including the lack of transparency in the Federal Government’s youth representation at the HLPF and how we can develop a process to better involve youth from across the country by addressing the barriers that prevent their involvement. This work is challenging and requires correcting for systemic and historical marginalization, particularly for women, indigenous peoples, and people of colour. Furthermore, we suggested implementing policies to increase public knowledge of the SDGs through improved and accessible education nationwide.

Additionally, with the facts of the national housing crisis, the intensifying pressure to fund education, and the challenges to find adequate employment, we highlighted the need to financially support youth who are working within the SDG framework. Finally, we emphasized the significant success currently being done at the grassroots level, and the need to bridge the gap between the civil society sector and the varying levels of the Canadian government to leverage current grassroots initiatives on the SDGs. We are looking forward to following up with Minister Duclos and ensuring that there is action taken toward furthering the consultation and engagement processes with Canadian youth.

Youth for the Future

All in all, this was a big day to be a Canadian youth at the UN. We witnessed Canada’s first ever presentation of a Voluntary National Review (VNR) to the UN, and discussed implementation and strategy with officials from multiple levels of government. We appreciated their open commitment to involving youth in the implementation of the Agenda 2030, which isn’t straight forward or simple. Youth perspectives are not singular nor stagnant. Our age is one facet of who we are, in addition to the wide ranging expertise, knowledge and experience we bring to the table. Looking forward past the HLPF, we see opportunity to collaborate with the Federal government on their Youth Policy for Canada, the forthcoming SDG Unit, and other initiatives to enshrine youth involvement in policy and planning for years to come.

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