Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Rio+20: The Future We Want for African Youth

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 conference was held in Brazil on 20-22 June 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. At this historical event world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, came together to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want. Among them were few African youth delegates
Sustainable development is about the future as defined by Our Common Future; also known as the Brundtland Report states that sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
Africa’s future rest on her large youth population who, when given the necessary skills and opportunity to participate, can provide solutions and contribute to efforts towards achieving development goals in local and national arenas. These youth are faced with so many great challenges that may be worse than that of their fore fathers  Many African youths joined their peers as they saw the Rio+20 as an opportunity to contribute to defining the future we want for Africa but was limited to those who had access to related information and opportunity to engage throughout the process.

African youth began as a continent to prepare for this historical conference in October last year at the 2011 African Economic Conference (AEC) and African Regional Preparatory Meeting on Rio+20 held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in October 2011. I was joined by many youth who demonstrated their passion for sustainable development by organizing side events and engaging their government.  We were also joined by International NGO and Civil Society organizations. African youths actively participated at this event, mostly under the Youth and Children Major Group of the UN CSD.   As the month moved on, the participation of youth in the process diminished with few youth-led activity on Rio+20 in Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroun  
While in Rio de Janeiro last June, we saw with some great disappointment that that many African government didn’t support many youth representatives to attend the conference and participate in shaping the future, for those who did managed to attend, the capacity to engaged was low compared to their peers form the global north; yet we did our best to lobby and engage our government on issue must close to our heart, Youth unemployment and comprehensive health care, including reproductive health. We believed that Rio+20 taught us something. It gave us as African youth a stronger belief in ourselves, in our ability to fight harder for the future we want with a new and different approach to support efforts for a more sustainable world
As a reproductive rights activist, I was sad that reproductive rights was excluded from the outcome document by governments who had supported reproductive rights over three month ago at the UN Commission on Population and Development held at the UN in May 2012, there they agreed on a landmark resolution to protect and support the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents and youth.
 It was heart-breaking to see governments go back on this commitment. As many African youth are entering their reproductive age, they need correct information on their sexual and reproductive health and rights to make informed decision about their sexuality, about whether or when to have children. The exclusion means that they won’t have the right to a safe sex life, free from diseases. Their right to make these decisions will not be protected ­ they will not be free from stigma and coercion.
African youth have the experience and passion to help shape a better and sustainable future for Africa. They only need the opportunity. We are now looking forward to engaging in the 2015 Post development agenda and high-level political forum on sustainable development which Rio+20 created.
About the Author:

Esther Agbarakwe is currently an Atlas Corps International Advocacy Fellow working with Population Action International in Washington DC. She heads the Nigerian Youth Climate Coalition and one of the ‘Youngers’ of the Elders+Youngers Rio+20 Initiative

Twitter @estherclimate