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From Youth Bulge to Youth-Led: Finding a Space for Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

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While we are still a few years away from the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, the process of framing the post-2015 development agenda is already well under way. The UN Secretary-General has appointed a High Level Panel (HLP), made up of 26 eminent persons from around the world to serve as the focal point for this entire process. According to the World We Want 2015, the HLP's online platform, numerous national, regional, and thematic consultations are taking place to engage stakeholders at all levels and allow them to share their opinions, priorities, and recommendations for the post-2015 process.

With the HLP's first substantive meeting on household poverty in London last week, these commitments have proven to be more than just lip service. Utilizing this unique opportunity to create a more comprehensive and effective development agenda the HLP seems genuinely committed to making this process innovative and inclusive. They have developed an online consultation to engage the general public, they have started a massive global conversation on Twitter using #Post2015HLP, and during last Friday's plenary session they regularly pulled questions from Twitter to pose directly to the HLP. Their distinct effort to be more inclusive was also displayed by their face to face consultations with representatives from the private sector, civil society, and most notably youth.

In a session entitled "Young Voices, Young Lives" the HLP offered the floor to youth leaders from around the world to provide their insight on the post-2015 agenda. As a traditionally overlooked group largely isolated from decision-making processes, the UN's commitment to engaging youth marks a significant step forward in not only the enhancement of youth-led development but the progress of an effective post-2015 agenda.

Half of the world's population is currently under 25 -- that is 3.5 billion people. Eighty-seven percent of these young people live in developing countries. Not only are they the largest subgroup of the population they will be the most affected by the outcomes of this future agenda and those held accountable for its impact. This "youth bulge" is often discussed in a negative light -- it is considered a challenge to sustainability, evidence of an unmet need for contraception, and an insurmountable target of development need. While it is arguably all of those things, what Friday's session displayed more than anything else was that it is also a massively untapped resource of expertise and innovation.

In their report, Realizing the Future We Want for All, the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda has stated that above all else the post-2015 agenda must be reflective of three fundamental principles: human rights, equality, and sustainability. Creating a space for youth-led development in the post-2015 process by shifting our view from youth as a key development challenge into viewing youth as an essential part of the solution is absolutely necessary to stay true to these principles.

While youth are most often acknowledged for the energy that they undeniably bring to the development process they also bring expertise, skills, cost-effective strategies, and perhaps most importantly effective results. While there is no denying that they provide a sustainability challenge not only for the environment but for development programs that have a huge population to serve with often limited resources. They simultaneously provide a seemingly never-ending and self-replenishing pool of leaders to inform effective development for years to come. As we begin to engage youth now, this safeguards us for a sustainable future -- a future in which not only justice is intergenerational but participation in the development process is as well.

Inclusion of young people in the framing of the post-2015 agenda is also a matter of equality. Similarly to the previous marginalization of women and girls, youth have been traditionally excluded from participation. While gender inequality still persists in almost all parts of the world it has gained significant attention on the development agenda -a focus which has made significant strides in enhancing the status of women and girls worldwide. The gender gap in education has narrowed in many parts of the world, maternal health care has been given international priority, as well as universal reproductive health care, and recently there has been growing global attention to the issue of child marriage. While these are all deeply important issues worthy of development concern this framing of gender equality with a focus exclusively on women and girls has detracted attention away from how these issues affect men and boys. While I in no way wish to call attention away from the half of the population that are women and girls, it is time that the half of the population -- inclusive of all genders -- that are under 25 are given the attention they too deserve.

Lastly, ensuring youth participation in development is necessary in order to ensure a human rights based approach. Participation is a fundamental human right and youth, as any other group, have the right to be meaningfully engaged in the post-2015 agenda. Given the wide range of discrimination that remains ever-present across the world, ageism is one that rarely receives much attention and when it does it is often in regards to rights for the elderly. Excluding half of the population from the post-2015 process largely, if not solely, because of their age is an act of discrimination. By making this effort to be inclusive of young people the HLP is rightfully holding the development industry at large accountable to their commitment to human rights. Youth are not only entitled to the right to education, sexual and reproductive health, and freedom from poverty, among other rights - they are entitled to a right to participate in the processes that claim to uphold and deliver these rights on their behalf.

As demonstrated in Friday's youth-led session young people around the world are a vital asset in the formulation and leadership of new commitments to global development. They are already doing a range of impressive work to combat the same issues set out by the MDGs offering different perspectives and new methodologies and tools. They are entrepreneurs, educators, advocates, and experts with a wealth of knowledge, creative approaches, and informed solutions to offer. It has been a strategic failure to have excluded youth from the decision making processes that informed our current agenda. Thanks to and in partnership with the High Level Panel, youth have been given a golden opportunity to rectify this going forward.

With the U.S. election results upon us, the state of U.S. foreign aid for development is in flux and the impact this will have on the post-2015 process is unknown. While you may not have been able to vote, you are still able to have your input and recommendations for the future development agenda heard. If you are under the age of 25 and interested in or working on development please complete the online consultation by November 7th and joining our movement by following us on Twitter @YouthPost2015, joining the Global Conversation by tweeting #Post2015HLP and #youth voices, and liking our Global Youth Voices - UN Global Conversation on the Post-2015 Agenda Facebook Page.

Remember, you are 50 percent of today but 100 percent of the future. Your opinions always have, do and will matter.

*The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).