Owning Beyond 2014- The role of young people in shaping our future

Paulini Turagabeci is a young woman from the YWCA of Fiji. She was present at the recently concluded ICPD Beyond 2014 International Conference on Human Rights, an assessment of the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action. Paulini spoke on World Population day and shared her views on young people, their leadership roles the issues that surround them.

I want to leave us with some thoughts that we could continue to reflect on as we approach ICPD plus 20 and the closing of the MDG’s so very briefly I’d like to reflect on some of the issues and concerns raised during the last two days of meetings and even the pre-forum discussion


Paulini Turagabeci

 I’d like to touch on three points, and they are the value of the voice of young people in the development agenda, some key SRHR concerns and parameters for this demographic and ownership of this whole process

The value of the voice of young people

The beauty of the input of young people is that their words and thought processes are often unmarred by the technicalities and rhetoric that seasoned engagers in the movement can be caught up and become stagnant in.

Young people, maybe because of their state of dependency or semi-dependency are unconcerned about hidden and selfish agendas of their own and they are able to dissect an issue quite well. I love the example of the 12 year old Egyptian boy Ali Ahmed who said when reflecting on Egypt’s constitutional draft and I quote ‘They say women are equal to men in all matters, except in matters that contradict Islamic law. But then Islamic law allows men to discipline their wives. This cannot work in society. I can’t beat up my wife and almost kill her and then tell you this is discipline. This is not discipline, this is abuse and insanity’ unquote. Here we see the unclouded judgment and wisdom of but one young person. I hope that taking to the street in angry and violent protest is not the only way young people can assert themselves and have a say about the things that affect their lives.

 In the conference we talked a lot about the dire need to build a human rights framework into the next set of development goals.

 The term ‘common sense’ was used yesterday and I realized that that was exactly what human rights is, it’s common sense! it’s common sense to disagree with child marriages because a young girl is physically and psychologically unprepared to take on the role of motherhood, its common sense to give women autonomy to make decisions about their bodies because its their own bodies, its common sense that when a woman says no to sex she doesn’t mean yes, or maybe, or later, or go take a shower before you touch me, she means NO – it’s common sense and not rocket science!

A lot of times when given the platform to engage in, such as this conference, the first reaction a young person has is immense gratitude and a sense of being unworthy, so there is still the manifestations of the power dynamics at play. And although there is nothing wrong with gratitude I’m going to be bold and say outright that young people actively engaged on an equal platform with decision makers and those with greater political and social influence should not be an exception but a rule of thumb

But it’s not only important to invite young people to these spaces but also make it easier for them to navigate the space and continue discussions outside the controlled environment of formal gatherings. Unfortunately the reality is that many young people only meet their decision makers once in meetings and conferences and never continue the engagement when they return to their home countries and so their presence returns to being just tokenistic.

With regards to what the new set of development goals will be, I think young people would want it to be inclusive and comprehensive of their different intersectionalities.

 But its hard because they are naturally absorbed into the political, social and religious dispositions their parents were a part of and although they may empathise with an issue from outside their own societal silos, its very hard for them to integrate and feel accepted for example young people in the LGBTQI communities who want to practice and belong to a religion but are isolated, exiled even by religious bodies.

The rules are either you’re a liberal or conservative, a democrat or republican, left or right, pro-choice or anti-choice, when in reality there are intersecting issues and commonalities that both sides can work on and belong to.

Young people want to create that paradigm shift where their identities and beliefs are not going to be defined by the status quo of one political party or restrictive man-made religious guidelines

Key SRHR parameters and concerns in relation to young people 

The principles addressing SRHR issues need to be broad and all encompassing but also definitive. During the conference the paramount example of a harmful traditional practice was FGM (and early and forced marriages). I do not wish to undervalue or disrespect the importance of the fight to eradicate this issue and I stand in solidarity with my sisters who live in danger of this, but I hope that at the same time we don’t become blinded to the plight of other women elsewhere.

In the Pacific our total population is even lesser than the population of Mexico city, but our issues are very real such as the discourse on climate change, food security and land grabbing and its effect on our sexual reproductive health rights as women and young women, gender based violence in the form of sorcery killings in PNG and harmful traditional and cultural practices that mitigates the perpetrators crimes which is usually of a sexual nature and thus violates a woman’s right to access full and unhindered justice. The latter may not have severe physical implications but are lived realities nonetheless and affect the holistic development of women.

In our break out sessions on the first day, the first question we asked ourselves was ‘who were being left behind?’ And sometimes the group that’s left behind is the group whose issues are not given equal footing or visibility on the world development agenda.

Also of importance is that we start to move away from the language and approach of SRH services being targeted at maternal and child health and address sex also as an issue of pleasure and not just procreation, because lets face it, most if not all young people are getting laid or having sex not because they want to reproduce but because it’s a natural part of growing up. Nevertheless that SRH services are also made non-discriminatory towards LGBQTI’s who face multi-faceted forms of discrimination, unmarried women and teenage mothers, 16 million of whom from developing countries according to UNFPA die in their pregnancies each year.

A lot of times we are fighting for the full realization of our sexual and reproductive health rights based on the inequalities we face because of our sex, gender and sexual orientation, age or socio-economic background when in principle these should be rights we enjoy by virtue of our humanity – full stop.

All in all I hope that the new set of development goals becomes all encompassing, all inclusive and multi-faceted and becomes the bridge that addresses the disconnect we often find between the decisions and promises made at international level to the implementation on the ground. I liked what one of the panelists of the opening panel on the first day said about the need for an integrative health system, combining curative and preventative health services. I believe that the new development agenda should be reflective of both preventative and curative measures when it comes to a young persons bodily autonomy and well-being. Curative, in the sense that it answers the question of ‘what are the rights and services that a 12, 13 year old can access when she falls pregnant’ and preventative in the sense of why should a 12, 13 year old fall pregnant in the first place, what strong preventative measures can be put in place?


Something that’s been coming out strongly within the time frame of this conference and even in other development spaces is the fear that we might lose all the gains and the grounds that we have achieved so far and the offence that we feel should that ever happen. And if misinterpreted, it gives off the idea especially to the younger generation that the ICPD is an exclusive club for its pioneers and something that they are not entitled to influence.

In a pre-conference discussion with a fellow panelist, I was told that decision-making is like a muscle. The more you use that muscle the better and stronger it becomes. So it is my hope that we begin to give young people more liberty in decision making and not fear too much about the outcomes of those decisions.

Just as there is room for improvement, there is room to make mistakes and I think we have to afford the grace to young people when and if they make mistakes and mistakes as defined by the older generations and not necessarily by young people.  This does not go to say that we are unaware or unappreciative of the gains our predecessors have achieved over the years, we just want to be looked upon as valued alliances and developing leaders. Leadership is not a position but an active transitional stewardship that ensures sustainability and in order to ensure that our development agenda is sustainable we need our leadership to be sustainable.