India’s national youth consultation on the post-2015 agenda: YOUth matters

© The YP Foundation

By Sumaya Saluja, Youth Advocacy Group member of the Global Education First Initiative

17 May 2013 - In December 2012, civil society, with the technical support of the United Nations began an intensive process of planning national consultations on the post-2015 agenda in both developed and developing countries. Nine global constituencies (civil society, women’s associations, industry, trade unions, farmers associations, research institutes, government, elected officials and youth) were tasked with carrying out countrywide discussions across the eleven thematic issue areas laid out by the United Nations:

  1. Education
  2. Health
  3. Growth and employment
  4. Environmental sustainability
  5. Inequalities
  6. Conflict and fragility
  7. Food security and nutrition
  8. Population dynamics
  9. Governance
  10. Water
  11. Energy

In India, five region-based consultations for youth constituencies were carried out by the following youth-led organizations: Pravah, Josh, Restless Development and The YP Foundation. Together, these organizations reached 237 young people by February 2013. Given below is the process conducted by The YP Foundation, a youth-led organization based in New Delhi.

The process of coming to consensus

The three day consultative process involved youth from different regions, sects, religions and castes coming together to give their input and analysis on the various thematic areas. The intention behind the consultation was to create a non-judgmental space for young people to discuss the different topics, ensure each participant understood the post-2015 process, discuss the context of other young people from across the country, and critically analyze their local realties.

Understanding the Millennium Development Goals

Many of the youth participants had never heard of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) before. In order to make the MDGs relatable to participants, the facilitators encouraged them to reflect on local, national and international events that have impacted their rights and opportunities available to different communities and individuals. Some of the Indian events mentioned included the 2002 India-Pakistan Partition Godhra Riots, India hosting the Common Wealth Games in 2010, the 2005 Right to Information Act and the 2009 Right to Education Act. 

Identifying local/national events and linking them to the global environment laid the groundwork for understanding the role of the MDGs. It also facilitated a discussion on the implications of international charters and declarations from the United Nations and their effect on local realities.

Mapping young people’s levels of information

The youth were asked to identify, from the perspective of the Indian government, what the top 10 issues facing youth were. Issues of safety and security, gender, sexuality and disability emerged as strong and clearly defined themes.

The facilitators conducted an activity on understanding power and privilege to help participants build an analytical lens on how different identities give or take away access from individuals and communities. Participants were encouraged to shape their recommendations in light of these disparities. Activities included a mapping of the various contexts young people live in throughout India, taking into consideration environmental barriers and enablers such as access to education, economic opportunities, food security, health, and security (conflict and migration). As part of the discussion on the MDGs,  youth were asked to think about what groups were left out of the original set of goals and to identify the implications of the MDGs on Indian policy. 

The youth also created community relationship maps that identified current services available to youth, assessed the quality of service providers, identified barriers to access, and assessed community member attitudes. Most participants mentioned that services were available, but that many were of poor quality, with corruption being a major issue, especially with respect to education. Participants repeatedly stressed the importance of education and the need to revise the curriculum to make it more relevant. For each of the different thematic areas, the recommendations presented by youth were all linked to a broader need for education.

Youth recommendations

Despite technological advancements and increased exposure, youth continue to feel there is a lack of access to both information and services at the community level. They requested to be involved in decision-making processes, including the design, implementation and monitoring of programs in their communities, and to be engaged meaningfully in influencing decisions and polices that will ultimately impact their rights and lives.

Below are the collective recommendations for the post-2015 development agenda from 284 young people across India. There was overarching agreement across all thematic issues on the need for quality services, participation and inclusiveness.

  1. Increase youth participation and leadership. Youth at the consultation recommend that young people be given leadership and participation opportunities beyond the Ministry of Sports alone, to which they are currently limited. The recommendations also include the need for a safe and non-judgmental enabling environment for young people to develop skills, take responsibility and access information and resources.
  2. Ensure opportunities for growth and entrepreneurship with access to local and relevant opportunities. Youth also recommend increased access to financial support and mentorship.
  3. Ensure accountable and responsive governance, where young people are engaged across all levels of design, implementation and monitoring.
  4. Universal access to comprehensive, inclusive and relevant education from early childhood to higher education (currently the 2009 Right to Education Act in India only covers children ages 6 to 14). This includes access to comprehensive sexual education within and outside of the school context (the current Adolescent Education Program remains banned in 5 states).
  5. Investment in, and the security of, young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in and outside of the school context, especially for unmarried youth, youth with disabilities, and sex workers.
  6. Access to youth friendly health services and counseling.
  7. Reduced gender inequalities and gender-based violence by engaging adults, men and boys in prevention, and empowering girls and women. Youth also recommend acceptance for individuals with multiple gender identities and sexual orientations.
  8. Scaled up comprehensive sexuality education through peer education programs in order to build young peoples’ ability to negotiate relationships, make informed choices regarding their health and bodies, reduce gender-based violence and discrimination, and increase their access to youth-friendly health service.

Like most processes, this consultation also had its limitations. Some of the challenges included creating common recommendations that were comprehensive and that responded to the needs and challenges mentioned by participants. Specific barriers the facilitators are still struggling with include: how to ensure the essence of the recommendations remain in tact once they are combined with regional, national or international youth recommendations; how to ensure the youth who attended the consultation continue to participate in the post-2015 process; to what degree can youth hold agencies accountable for including their recommendations? Additionally, while the intent during the process of consensus building was to ensure it was democratic and reflected the voices of all participants, it remained a challenge with consistent pressure to be concise. 

Ultimately, the youth consultation that took place in India is just one of many similar consultations taking place throughout the world. These consultations are part of a considerate effort to ensure the voices of the global south – from youth to the disabled, minorities to women, and many more – have a valid and meaningful opportunity to influence the next set of development goals.