Small island developing states are especially vulnerable to external economic and environmental shocks. At the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Samoa, 1-4 September, the Commonwealth is partnering with the United Nations, governments and international organisations to help build the resilience of these countries.
Social development concerns came under the spotlight during the pre-conference Youth Forum, reports Steph Carter, 23, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Australia, as did the importance of representative youth networks.
At this week’s SIDS pre conference TALAVOU Forum, young leaders from across the Caribbean, Pacific and African regions came together for a day of dialogue and collective action.
There was no shortage of ideas, innovation and collaboration, particularly when it came to critical issues affecting the sustainable development and livelihoods of SIDS youth. As guest speaker Katherine Ellis, Director of Youth Affairs at the Commonwealth, said, ‘we must empower youth to educate and lead by example’. For the young people of SIDS, this theme has never been more relevant.
Amongst the issues discussed, which ranged from youth unemployment to oceans and climate change, social development was a key priority area. In the build up to the main SIDS conference from 1st– 4th September, social development was underscored as one of the three dimensions to sustainable development, key to ensuring results for the most vulnerable and marginalized.
Under the broader umbrella of social development, SIDS youth find themselves facing the implications of non-communicable diseases, gender inequality, sexual and reproductive health concerns and youth unemployment and empowerment- all issues hindering essential development progress. Many youth delegates specifically highlighted gendered violence and teenage pregnancy as being cause for social exclusion in their home country, as well as youth unemployment and skills training.
At TALAVOU, delegates were fortunate to hear from representatives from a variety of organizations including UNAIDS, UNFPA and the Commonwealth Secretariat. In seeking solutions to social development concerns, Katherine Ellis from the Commonwealth Secretariat emphasized the need to create more representative youth networks as a way to take action.
“Critical factors for youth empowerment in my opinion – firstly that youth networks and youth groups are truly representative and preferably youth led, they have direct and authentic access to decision makers, and we need to make sure the focus is on young people’s capabilities and needs. Youth leaders need to be really informed, aware and effective. Young people must be driven by values and purpose.”
Katherine recognised the need for SIDS youth to practice “informed and structured” youth advocacy, and for governments to support strong and active youth councils. “We’ve got to make sure that young people are represented properly and not just in terms of employment, but in terms of empowerment and participation.”
“We support national youth councils very much. Any country that invests in a really well structured youth council is ten steps further down the road in terms of national development than any other country.”
As leaders prepare for the main conference proceedings next week, outcomes of the youth conference will surely remind them of the importance of youth empowerment and youth networks in tackling social development concerns across SIDS.
In reflecting on the outcomes of the youth conference, Bahamas youth delegate Crystal Alexander was hopeful. “An investment in youth is an investment in change- structural, economic or social changes. That’s the future,” she said.
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