UN Youth Envoy calls for strong youth policies and investment in skills development

Jul 22, 2015

United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, Mr Ahmad Alhendawi (middle) having a photo opportunity with members of the United Nations Uganda convergence group on Youth Engagement and Employment (YEE). On his immediate right is Ms Almaz Gebru, Country Director, UNDP and YEE co-chair; next to her is Ms. Esperance Fundira, UNFPA Representative in Ugand (Photo by UNDP Uganda)

KAMPALA - There is need to invest in skills development of youth by financing youth policies and programs and ensuring they have access to decent jobs, UN Secretary General’s Youth Envoy, Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, said today while meeting members of the UN Uganda convergence group on Youth Engagement and Employment (YEE).

“We are optimistic and encouraged by the progress made so far on youth in this country. But there we need to scale up the investment for youth, and double that investment to spur youth development,” Mr. Alhendawi told the YEE team that is co-chaired by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Labour Organization (ILO).

With majority of Uganda’s population comprising youth, investing in skilling young people, and engaging them in decision making would enable them to create jobs, and create solutions for their own development, he added.

He highlighted the importance of involving youth in implementing and monitoring the new sustainable development goals that will be adopted by countries during the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly in September in New York.  

The UN is also in the process of developing a new index on youth development as part of the monitoring for the implementation of the SDGs, he said, noting that Uganda, having already localized 75% of the global goals in its second National Development Plan, is well-positioned to participate in the baseline for 2016.

“We have worked to ensure we have a youth policy and strategy included in the Financing for Development agenda, and we are pleased to see that Uganda is taking leadership on financing for its development,” said Mr. Alhendawi who convened a side event on "Investing in Youth and Ensuring Decent Jobs to Harness the Demographic Dividend," at the UN’s Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD) that took place last week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda, is the first global document on financing for development that recognizes that investing in youth is critical to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for present and future generations, and calls on Members States to promote national youth strategies as a key instrument for meeting the needs and aspirations of young people.

Speaking on the work of YEE, Ms Almaz Gebru, UNDP Country Director, said the convergence group has strengthened its support and engagement with Government of Uganda and national and local youth networks to effectively address youth development in a more wholistic manner. YEE’s priorities include policy and dialogue, capacity for service delivery for youth, and knowledge management. In addition to providing technical and financial contribution for an issues paper on Youth to mainstream youth development in the new second National Development Plan (NDPII) - a first for Uganda - the YEE group is in the process of developing a UN Uganda youth strategy to guide its youth investment and programming in the country.

“We are also converging on common services to ensure we offer one comprehensive UN package of services to youth to ensure we deliver as one”, explained Ms Gebru.

She highlighted a number of challenges that still need to be addressed to promote youth development, such as providing more accurate data on youth, better implementation of the national strategy for youth, amplifying youth voices and encouraging participation in civic engagement. Others include undertaking a mapping to identify the skills gap in order to bridge the mismatch of the youth skills and the labor market, in addition to promoting sexual reproductive health and rights for young people, especially adolescents.

The UN Youth Envoy, who had earlier met with the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Ms Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie, was also joined in the meeting by a number of representatives from civil society organisations working on youth development in Uganda. These include Restless Development, Uganda Youth Coalition, United Nations Association of Uganda, Uganda National Students Association, Uganda Youth Network (UYONET), Concordia Volunteer Abroad Programme, and Leo Africa. They highlighted several initiatives that could advance youth development such as the promotion of ICT and greater civil society engagement in the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs.

“It is important to make sure we have youth-led accountability measures (SDGs) in place,” said Mr. Greg Lavender, Country Director, Restless Development, noting that there is need to involve young people in the localization of the SDGs, to increase their chances of being successfully implemented when adopted.

“There is very little understanding amongst young people of how they are involved in the SDGs and what these mean to their lives,” added Mr. Awel Uwihanganye, Head of Leo Africa Forum.

“If each of us would look at youth as an investment and resource, it would change this country. How many people in the politic arena see youth as voters and not rioters? How many of us youth read policies and interpret them? We need to build the capacity of the young people we are programming for,” urged Eric K. Robert, Team Leader, Uganda Youth Coalition.

“Youth should be seen as the solution to development. And not as a challenge," emphasized Ms Linda Asaba, a Programme Coordinator from the United Nations Association of Uganda.

In his response, Mr. Alhendawi, pledged UN support to youth initiatives in Uganda, and said the UN’s System Wide Action Plan (SWAP) aims to strengthen and sharpen youth programmes in the UN system. He also evealed plans to establish a youth advisory board for Youth to further institutionalize youth efforts in Uganda. He also drew attention to the importance of addressing teenage pregnancy and early child marriage, which he said is greatly hindering the progress of women and girls globally, and in Uganda.

 “Getting pregnant, to a young girl, means game over. We need to ensure that young women are well equipped to make informed choices when it comes to sexual reproductive health in order to realise full their potential,” he said.

Currently, one out of every 4 girls in Uganda aged between 15-19 is already a mother or is pregnant with her first child, according to 2011 research by Macro International Inc and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. An estimated 49 percent of Ugandan girls are married off before their 18th birthday in contravention of the law. About 14 percent of young women and 16 percent of young men had their first sexual encounter before the age of 15, while 57 percent of young women had their first encounter before the age of 18, according to the 2011 Uganda Demographic Health Survey (UDHS).

As part of his visit to Uganda, Mr. Alhendawi was due to preside over a three-day youth hackathon to develop mobile app solutions to promote young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health. The Hackathon is organised by the United Nations Population Fund in Uganda.

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