Twenty six (26) years ago in 1985, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) observed the first International Year of Youth (IYY) on the theme Participation, Development and Peace. Citizens of the 1970/80s were hag-ridden by political and socio-economic turmoil and youths, like those who struggled against Apartheid in South Africa, were at the forefront of structural and cognitive change. It was therefore no surprise that IYY “drew international attention to the important role young people play in the world, and, in particular, their potential contribution to development” (World Programme of Action for Youth – WPAY).
On the 18th December 2009, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 64/134 proclaiming the 12th August 2010 to 11th August 2011 as the International Year of Youth under the apt theme Dialogue and Mutual Understanding. This has been a year in which millions of youths around the world have intrepidly opposed purveyors of the declension of political and moral will. After the usurpations (and attempts) of dictatorial regimes in the Arab World, student protests in the UK, carnage in Jamaica, political chaos in Côte d’Ivoire etc there is indeed need for dialogue and mutual understanding.
The slogan for this years’ IYY is “our year – our voice”. All United Nations Member States, according to UNGA, are expected to have an official launch of IYY and “review their national youth development policies and programmes to fully implement” the World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY) for the Year 2000 and Beyond. This was adopted in 1995. WPAY “provides a policy framework and practical guidelines for national action and international support to improve the situation of young people. It contains proposals for action, aiming at fostering conditions and mechanisms to promote improved well-being and livelihoods among young people”. WPAY outlines fifteen (15) priority areas including education, employment, girls and young women, youth and conflict… all of which require seminal thinking and analysis in Jamaica
There has not been an official launch of the International Year of Youth in Jamaica, although more than seven (7) months have elapsed since it started. The same is true for many countries in the region and the world. Some young people however, have astutely and appositely taken up this responsibility, recognizing that it is their year. A small coterie of seven youths from Guyana for instance commenced a campaign via social network sites to promote IYY.
The numbers increased astronomically within a couple months. With little assistance from the government, the group, now called the ‘Global Youth Movement-Guyana’ (GYM-G), launched the International Year of Youth on the 18th March 2011. The Prime Minister and a UN representative were present. This means that the voice of the youth was heard. More importantly, GYM-G is now taking steps to implement aspects of the World Programme of Action for Youth.
In Jamaica the indolence, apathy and acquiescence normally associated with matters affecting youths persist. As youths we have two options, one, we can accept things as they are and continue turning a blind eye at the negation of our rights or two, we can take matters into our own hands like the youths of Guyana did. I know we cannot survive in isolation but there is so much more we can do to support and inspire each other. We are truly the only hope we have.
There are four months left before IYY ends; let us use this opportunity to lay a firm foundation for national dialogue, respect and mutual understanding in this and the years ahead. That is a good place to start and it has to begin with us.