Inclusive Civic Spaces for Marginalised Youth: the UPR in the Case4Space Event

Bangkok, 1st December 2016, UPR Info Asia joined the ‘Youth at the Heart of the 2030 Agenda: the Case for Space’ co-organised by Forum Asia, UNESCAP, UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA, and Restless Development. Emilie Pradichit, UPR Info Asia Regional Director, moderated the session ‘Inclusive civic spaces for marginalised youth’, in which representatives from grassroots organisations from the Asia-Pacific region discussed policy advocacy strategies for marginalised youth to engage at national and international levels, aiming at their inclusion in policy spaces and holding governments accountable.

The panel comprised of Meenakshi Sharma from Action for Adolescents Girls India, Anusaya Pani from Prem, Jeff Acaba from Youth Lead, Wai Wai Nu from Women Peace Network, and Phnom Thano from the Network of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand (NIPT). The panel discussed strategies for governments, international organisations, and civil society to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through an inclusive and bottom-up approach placing youth voices at the centre.

Meenakshi Sharma and Anusaya Pani, young women whose work aims at empowering adolescents girls from tribal communities and rural areas in India, observed that capacity building programmes that strengthen tribal and rural women’s confidence, increase their access to education and foster economic empowerment ultimately lead to behaviour changes within their communities.

Jeff Acaba, Youth leader from the Philippines, raised awareness of greater HIV infection rates among young key-populations (i.e. gay men, transgender people, sex workers, and drug users) in the Asia-Pacific region. He stressed on the regional advocacy work undertaken by Youth Lead to ensure young key populations’ needs are taken into account and are addressed in regional political commitments, such as the 2015 UNESCAP Final Report of the Asia Pacific Intergovernmental Meeting on HIV/AIDS. He further explained that for the SDGs to be sustainable and successful, young key populations must receive support and financial assistance to voice their demands.

Inclusion requires from an understanding of the sources of exclusion. Wai Wai Nu, young woman human rights defender from the Rohingya community, Myanmar, explained that tolerance among different groups, increasing civic engagement, and greater access to resources and knowledge can potentially shift societal behaviour leading to greater inclusion of marginalised groups. She shared her journey from being a political prisoner to a human rights defender, standing up for women’s rights, building a peaceful society through youth friendship and tolerance campaigns, and  advocating for the recognition and inclusion of the rohingya minority at the international level, through the UPR process and the work undertaken with the Burma/Myanmar UPR Forum.

Phnom Thano, Youth Indigenous from Thailand, argued that inclusion derives from peoples’ ownership of their own issues, receiving support and establishing partnerships that assist them in achieving their goals. Phnom recalled how community engagement with the UPR and the establishment of the Thai CSO Coalition for the UPR, assisted by UPR Info Asia, empowered local voices to demand recognition of their issues and to participate in the implementation of UPR recommendations in Thailand. Therefore, inclusion refers to a greater respect for community knowledge and their participation in decisions that affect their lives. He concluded by emphasized that the realization of the SDGs and the mitigation of climate change cannot take place without indigenous peoples.

Following this discussion, UPR Info Asia moderated the break-out session: ‘Strategies for effective policy engagement of marginalized youth at the international level – Lessons Learned from UN Human Rights Reviews and the UPR process’. During this session, participants urged government, donors, and development professionals to invest more time in listening to young people and key-populations to better understand their issues and create inclusive participation. Regional and international spaces should be aware of language barriers, welcoming non-English speakers – often the most excluded – to engage and influence these arenas. Finally, by forming coalitions, youth groups are able to collaborate on crosscutting issues and create more leverage when liaising with other stakeholders.

UPR Info Asia concluded that through community-led initiatives, young people have the capacity to become agents of change within their country, paving the way for human rights improvements on the ground.