*Originally published on http://www.youthcoalition.org in July 2014

*Article by Katie Lau

It’s time that young people were talked to and not talked about. It struck me even more clearly when I was a meeting of young activists in Hong Kong recently.

A friend and colleague put it perfectly when he said that he was tired of being a ‘tick-box quota’ – sick of being chosen to speak simply because conference organisers needed a young person who was preferably from the south.

Reinforcing that we need to meaningfully engage with young people, particularly those from the global south. And this means going further than just a tokenistic speaking slot.

We need to hear their concerns and ideas. This may mean we need to think outside the box and shake-up our advocacy model; this could simply start with de-jargoning and de-acronym-ing everything!

We need to re-think how we consult and reach out to young people in different parts of the world. I take for granted my computer in an office with fast and reliable Internet connection, not all these things are enjoyed by the colleagues and partners we work with and we need to remember that.

When we met in Hong Kong, we all came with different experiences and causes but we were all united in our passion and aim to get young people’s voices heard in decision-making. As part of our united strategy, the meeting also focused on un-packing the post-2015 development framework; what it means and why it is important to young people.

KL-Blog-Pic-2-635x376

So why is it?

The post-2015 development framework should build on the gains made from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which saw the world pull together to make impressive strides in reducing extreme poverty. What happens next has the potential to deliver the transformative social change the world needs to ending poverty and delivering justice and equality.

Nearly half of the world is under the age of 25, which means we will inherit this framework and be the primary implementers of it. Based on its success or failure, we will design, negotiate and implement what follows.

Youth ideas and priorities must be reflected to ensure it has the largest and most effective impact on people’s lives. As a sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) advocate this is of paramount importance because of all the goals, MDG 5 on improving maternal health is the most off track.

Target 5b (universal access to reproductive health) fares even worse, mostly because it was left out of the original framework, added 7 years later in 2007. This illustrates why it is so important to get the post- 2015 development framework right the first time round.

SRHR is important to young people for many reasons. Increasing access to sexual and reproductive health services such as modern forms of contraception can avert unintended pregnancies, therefore reducing the incidence of unsafe abortion or adolescent pregnancy. About 16 million girls aged 15–19 years and 2 million girls under the age of 15 give birth every year and complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death among girls in this age range. [1]

The World Bank reports that delaying pregnancy also means young girls are more likely to stay in education for longer and acquire more skills, therefore increasing their economic and employment opportunities. So getting young people’s SRHR right in the first instance is critical to ensuring quality of life and well-being.

What we started

One of the things we discussed in Hong Kong was ways of working together to ensure a loud and coherent youth voice in an often inaccessible and youth-unfriendly space. We mapped out key milestones to influence and discussed different strategies to do so.

I hope this meeting is the starting force that we can build on as the post-2015 efforts likely step up in the coming months with the conclusion of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development.

The meeting drew out some truths for me personally as an international advocate for SRHR. The post-2015 process is so complex and difficult to navigate, even as a full-time paid staff. So what about those activists who are mostly volunteers, or don’t have the resources or time to access the space and information?

My role as an advocate

With so much of the post-2015 process an unknown after September 2014, as an international advocate, my role is to facilitate the participation of civil society and activists who do not have the same access as me, often those working at the national level. We need to be bolder and braver in our engagement with civil society, particularly with those from the global south and those who tend to be less heard.

Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki- moon is resolute that the post-2015 process is Member State led. After all, the global agenda is simply the sum of national agendas. This means it is national advocates that drive the change we need to advance SRHR. If we expect Member States to advance SRHR, they need to hear it from their citizens, so we need to work with and enable national advocates to ensure their national priorities and contexts are reflected in governments’ positions in international negotiations. This means that most advocacy work needs to be done prior to governments arriving in New York for policy dialogues and negotiations.

It’s time that young people were talked to and not talked about. It’s time to shake- things up and bring the grassroots voices up to deliver a truly transformative post-2015 development agenda – a framework by the people for the people.