Written by Sara Eftekhar, Official Canadian Youth Delegate to the Commission on Population and Development
For the first time, Global Affairs Canada had a youth delegate serve as a participant on the Canadian delegation to the United Nations 52nd Commission for Population and Development (CPD 52) in New York from April 1-5th. It was an honor and privilege for me to be that youth. In my role as a youth delegate, I supported the Head of the Canadian delegation by sharing my perspective on key issues being discussed at the annual session, I observed presentations in plenary and took notes and represented Canada at side events. At the end of the commission, I wrote a report summarizing my experiences and my recommendations for Global Affairs Canada.
While attending the commission as the first ever youth delegate, one of my key takeaways was the value of youth voices but a lack of spaces for those youth voices to be heard. Repeatedly throughout the commission, the importance of youth voices and perspectives around the world was emphasized. In national statements, most of the countries spoke about how important it was for their countries to invest in young people. This is no surprise as there are more young people in the world than ever before. Even in her introductory remarks, the Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr. Natalie Kanam spoke about the importance of engaging youth in achieving the sustainable development goals, however, the lack of youth presence was prominent. Therefore, it is evident that globally, youth need to be more involved in high level meetings and decision making that impacts them the most. Organizations and institutions need to deliver by providing spaces for youth to incorporate youth voices and perspectives at all high-level meetings.
Throughout the commission, I learned more about Canada’s development foreign feminist policy. For example, at an event hosted by the government of Mali, the Ambassador of Mali to the UN spoke about how certain programs funded by countries like Canada had contributed to improving the livelihood of women and girls. I also understood the importance of a feminist policy from other countries who spoke about early child marriages, lack of universal education for girls, maternal mortality and unsafe access to abortions. However, I believe that Canada should make bolder statements about its vision for global development and women’s reproductive health. Canada should hold other countries accountable especially countries that it supports if progress is not made in those countries. As well, I believe that Canada should focus on the root causes of early marriage, maternal deaths and violence against women which means a stronger emphasis on addressing war and conflict and achieving peace. As well, I noticed that some developed countries like the Netherlands in their national statements spoke about their own challenges to achieving Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) for all in their countries. However, in our statement, we spoke about our vision and progress for other countries even though we have many of our own challenges in achieving SRHR. Murdered and Missing Indigenous women, a lack of a national birth control plan, the struggle for an inclusive sexual health education in certain provinces and a shortage of reproductive health services in rural and remote areas are issues that need to be addressed nationally. My recommendation was for Canada to create global partnerships with other countries who share similar issues in order to address the reproductive health issues occurring in our own country.
On a personal level, I felt so honored and proud to be able to represent Canada and youth voices from across the country. As an immigrant to Canada, I always questioned my identity about whether I was truly a Canadian. Growing up, my family chose Canada as their home without any ties or history in this country. Sitting behind the “Canada” sign at the United Nations gave me a sense of belonging, I felt that my story and my identity was part of the Canadian story. It was a monumental moment that I will always cherish. I am so grateful for the opportunities Canada has provided me and I hope to continue to give back. I believe my personal pride and joy of representing Canada is a larger narrative of why it is so important for Canada to continue to include diverse youth voices in high level meetings. By being included, youth will feel a sense of empowerment and recognition that they matter as individuals and they can be leaders making important decisions for their country in the future no matter what background they are from.
I am grateful that Global Affairs Canada has recognized that youth empowerment and youth voices are critical to achieving the SDGs and addressing key sustainable development challenges by choosing a youth delegate for the first time and I hope that other government departments follow their path and incorporate a youth delegate at all high level meetings.