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UNESCO and Youth - Strategy
To help ensure that young people become empowered and their contributions are taken into account, UNESCO has recognized the need to facilitate and support youth participation with regards to governance, programming, policy development, advocacy and monitoring.
According to the United Nations definition, youth constitutes people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. This makes up approximately 18% of the world population.

While there are about 1.2 billion young people living in the world today, there will be 72 million more youth by 2025. As a matter of fact, the present generation of youth is the largest ever in history. However, despite the significant increase in numbers of 15 to 24-year olds, youth as a proportion of the world’s population is actually decreasing as populations are ageing.

In today’s globalising world, ‘being young’ is radically different from what it was one or two generations ago. Young people, on the whole, spend longer preparing for adulthood than their parents did. They are more likely to attend school, enter the workforce at a later age, get married and have children later, and stand a greater chance of enjoying a healthy adult life.

However, these general statements capture only average trends. Vastly disparate conditions across regions and within countries mean that the overall experience of ‘being young’ varies enormously. Young people’s experiences are heavily conditioned by their environment (for example, urban or rural) and degree of exposure to certain risks and related stigma, depending on sex, place of residence, socio-cultural context, economic circumstances and marital status.

Both in the global North and South, there is agreement that, perhaps more than any other social group, it is the young who encounter the uncertainties generated by economic and cultural globalisation. While the transition to adulthood, which defines the nature of young people’s later lives, can be a straightforward period of opportunities and advancement, for most young people it is more risky and challenging than ever before.

At the same time, young people are critical stakeholders in all aspects of development, and their energy, motivation and vision are essential assets for positive social change. In recent years, there has been increased recognition that young people must be placed at the very centre of the development agenda. However, we have much ground left to cover if we are to ensure that young people are not only ‘considered’, but that they have the opportunity to participate as equal partners in decision-making and action at all levels.

Youth participation becomes all the more compelling as we take into account the disproportionate effects of current social transformations on young people. The speed at which educational content must evolve in order to incorporate new requirements and technologies means that young people must constantly adapt their knowledge and skills bases. Increasing environmental degradation and ageing populations, for example, are other pressing issues that today's generation of young people have to cope with through the fulfilment of their social citizenship. In this context, it is imperative that communication with young people be relevant to their needs and consistent with their own forms of interaction.

Working in partnership with young people has been a long-standing priority for UNESCO. The Organization’s strategy of action with and for youth was shaped by the World Programme of Action for Youth to the year 2000 and Beyond (PDF), a global blueprint for youth policies and programmes adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1995.

To help ensure that young people become empowered and their contributions are taken into account, UNESCO has recognized the need to facilitate and support youth participation with regards to governance, programming, policy development, advocacy and monitoring.

The biennial UNESCO Youth Forum, held since 1999 and now an integral part of all sessions of the UNESCO General Conference, is an important mechanism for channelling young people’s voices into the Organisation’s work. Having institutionalised the Youth Forum makes UNESCO unique within the UN system.
Still, there remains the challenge of ‘making commitments matter’ as well as a very real need to promote youth participation at all levels. In particular, UNESCO must develop targeted programmes that take into account the needs of the most marginalized groups of young people in all its fields of action. In this regard, the Social and Human Sciences Sector - in cooperation with governments, UNESCO National Commissions, young people’s organizations and the UN system - has a crucial contribution to make by:
  • promoting evidence-based research and the development of indicators regarding changing transition patterns of young people;
  • identifying and promoting good practice of youth-adult partnerships;
  • developing capacity-building tools for Governments and other stakeholders for the elaboration and strengthening of youth-related social policies and programmes;
  • promoting the inclusion of youth perspectives in discussions related to basic human values, the ethics of science and technology and the promotion of inclusive societies.
As today’s young people are crucial for the shaping of our future, it is imperative they be provided with the tools which will enable them not only to cope but to develop to their full potential.

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