Table of contents:
In the Arab region, young people represent a critical and significantly large socio-demographic group, whose safety and wellbeing underpin efforts to implement the SDGs. From a demographic perspective, the youth bulge is a highly-pronounced characteristic of the region, as nearly 60 per cent of the total population is under the age of 30. Projections for 2030 and 2050 indicate that many countries will have large portions of their young populations living in urban settings.
When investment is strongly geared towards building young people’s human capital and productivity, the resulting demographic dividend drives development and prosperity. However, in the Arab region, decent human development for young people has not been achieved across the board, as evidenced, for example, by inadequate standards of health services and high unemployment rates. This challenging situation, resulting from decades of development deficits affecting 72 million young men and women, is exacerbated by dangerous conflicts that have unravelled societies, placed young people in grave danger, disrupted their education, and forced many into irregular migration and displacement.
In 2012, ESCWA launched a six-year research programme on youth development based on the World Programme of Action on Youth (WPAY), aimed at promoting inclusive and participatory development in line with SDG target 16.7 on ensuring responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. Placing special emphasis on youth participation in the Arab region is a strategic approach adopted by ESCWA to address youth marginalization and exclusion from polices that directly affect them, and consequently help tackle the tremendous challenges and risks they face. Enhanced inclusion and participation better equip young people to act as agents of change capable of shaping the future for themselves and their communities, as envisioned in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Youth participation has gained importance in the Arab region among many Governments, civil society organizations and young people. Some Arab Governments have started involving young people in policymaking. ESCWA recognizes this development as an encouraging step in the right direction, and seeks to create sustainable channels for participation built on trust and full respect for the rights of young people, who are demanding greater voice and autonomy to shape their own future. Young people in the region want to enjoy freedom of expression, information, peaceful assembly and association. Those values are enshrined in the 2030 Agenda - without them youth empowerment cannot take place.
In this context, over the period 2015-2017, ESCWA implemented an inter-regional field project to enhance the participation of young people in decision-making processes in three countries, namely Jordan, Kuwait and Tunisia. Throughout the project’s phases, regional consultations and training activities, ESCWA brought together young people, youth-led and youth-focused non-governmental organizations and representatives from relevant ministries and departments to explore how young people can strengthen their voice and impact in public life and policies that affect them.
A training programme was developed and rolled out in the participating countries, a manual on youth participation in decision-making in the Arab region was designed by experts in collaboration with young people, and a broad range of knowledge products were prepared and compiled into an online toolbox, including a regional analysis report and a brief on young people and the SDGs with special focus on SDG-16 on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
ESCWA is committed to building upon previous achievements in the area of youth empowerment, and will dedicate a 2018-2019 flagship publication to young people’s issues. At the inter-agency level, ESCWA will continue collaborating with the United Nations Inter-Agency Technical Task Team on Young People to implement its 2018-2020 work programme, and will partner with the United Nations Population Fund and UNESCO to finalize the United Nations Strategy for Youth, Peace and Security in Arab States.