Youth engagement as partners for development and peace

Young women and men have got the creativity, the potential and the capacity to make change happen – for themselves, for their societies, and for the rest of the world. UNESCO is committed to empowering young women and men and helping them to work together to drive social innovation and change, participate fully in the development of their societies, eradicate poverty and inequality, and foster a culture of peace.

The UNESCO Social and Human Sciences Sector in Southern Africa recognizes that the youth should not just be beneficiaries of the work by others, rather they should be essential actors in finding solutions to the issues faced by young people in the world today. Their energy and leadership must be demonstrated across the world, and they must be fully engaged in social development themselves and supported in this work by their societies.

Building on previous experiences and recent lessons learned based on UNESCO’s work on youth in all its fields of competence, UNESCO will provide upstream policy advice for the development or review of transversal and inclusive public policies on youth with the equal participation of young women and men and in line with national priorities and through an integrated and youth needs-sensitive analytical approach. 

At the regional level, UNESCO will enable the exchange of good practices and knowledge among countries and regions and will foster related policy debates. At the national level, building the capacities of decision-makers and personnel of related institutions will be an integral part of UNESCO’s action, which will be reflected in the UNDAFs and UCPDs. 

UNESCO will also guide national governments in applying participatory processes, engaging all related stakeholders, particularly young women and men. Specific focus will be placed on the creation or strengthening of national youth structures (Youth Councils etc) to ensure representation of different groups of youth especially vulnerable and marginalized groups. Complementary to the policy work, UNESCO will foster youth civic engagement, democratic participation and social innovation, emphasizing three specific aspects of engagement: 

  1. Youth participation in decision-making and democratic consolidation: UNESCO will advocate for, associate its networks to, and facilitate the development of youth participation processes from the local (school, community, municipality) to the global level (regional and international fora, youth consultation processes, etc.), with particular attention to marginalized groups. These efforts will be complemented by initiatives that allow youth to express themselves, to understand their rights and responsibilities and to play an active role in affirming democratic processes.
  2. Youth leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation for sustainable livelihoods and poverty reduction: UNESCO will mobilize partners and networks and will provide technical advice and training to support young women and men in leading action for sustainable livelihoods and community development.
  3. Youth engagement to promote mutual understanding, prevent conflict, combat violence and discrimination and participate in conflict resolution and building and consolidating peace. UNESCO will develop comprehensive and gender sensitive interventions, engaging youth through artistic, cultural, entrepreneurial and sport activities, as a means to prevent the violence and discrimination affecting them. Youth engagement in conflict prevention, reconciliation and the consolidation of peace, particularly in countries in transition, will be supported through targeted training, youth exchanges and dialogue initiatives. All activities will be designed with the necessary critical mass to deliver impact and will, in particular be reflected in UNDAFs and UCPDs.


What has been done already?

Youth’s perspectives on secondary education in Southern Africa (SDG 4)

Through engagement with around 300 young women and men in Southern Africa (Malawi, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe), UNESCO provided youth with a platform for their contribution a study on the relevance of secondary education in their countries.

One important conclusion of the research is the role of communities and its influence on the engagement and disengagement of students. Youth recommended involvement of the communities in the education system and the transformation of families and relatives into advocates for and supporters of youth engagement.

School management and local authorities have to reach out to communities and jointly address the social and cultural factors that cause disengagement from education.

Youth also addressed the issue of demotivated teachers and the central role that teachers have in supporting engagement with education systems, installing a culture of learning and providing support to students.

Finally, the education system has to adapt its content to local realities and needs. There is need as such to provide tutoring, better understand and build on the existing systems to improve communities-schools interactions, and make curriculum relevant to the realities of youth in the region. 


Intercultural approach as a tool for youth inclusion (SDG 16)

This study analysed the perceptions of exclusion of a group of young people aged 15-24 in the Southern African Region, as a first step toward understanding youth’s perception of cultural diversity, gender inequality, and exclusion. 

The study proposed recommendations on how intercultural encounters between young people coming from different backgrounds can pave way to a common understanding of realities and possible transformations. It is clear that there are many obstacles to be tackled at the institutional level (schools and other public institutions), but this research posits that even though work is required to improve that, an important percentage of the efforts must be addressed toward youth in their communities. Considering diversity as the background, intercultural approach is thus taken as a relevant tool for critical and transformative action. At the most superficial levels, intercultural dialogue can help foster mutual tolerance and even understanding, through the exchange of ideas and emotions. Marginalized youth can dialogue to expose exclusion and discrimination. Nevertheless, through spaces of cogitation, intercultural dialogue can propose not only rapprochement or tolerance but actual consciousness and awareness of power unbalances, which is a first step toward change. 


Upcoming projects include:

Zambia youth forum: 

This will be a consultative forum consultative forum between the government of Zambia and the youth. It will be a rare opportunity for the Government, stakeholders and youth to take and ownership of the 2015 National Policy and the National plan of action as well as map a way forward in the implementation of both documents.

It will also provide an opportunity to the youth to engage the Government on matters that affect their wellbeing and make recommendations on how best to implement provisions of the National Youth Policy in order to improve the wellbeing of the youth.

The Forum will represent the views and opinions of youth and youth organizations in all relevant policy areas and promote the inter-sectorial approaches for the benefit of youth policies. 

Women and Girls living with disabilities:  

UNESCO in collaboration with UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, and UN Women plan to support women and girls with disabilities by amplifying their voices and addressing the inaccessibility and social exclusion propagated by a disability hostile cultural environment. UNESCO seeks to ameliorate inter-agency collaboration, create lasting partnerships and empower Disabled Persons Organizations, and mainstream disability rights into the forefront of UN Agenda. 

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