Flore De Pauw and Launy Dondo represented Belgian youth at a UN forum on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Discover their story.
Flore De Pauw and Launy Dondo, Belgian UN youth representatives of the Vlaamse Jeugdraad and the Conseil de la jeunesse respectively.
They represent Belgian youth at a high-level forum on the SDGs.
Youth participation should definitely not be taken as a given! We must continue to ensure that young people can have their say in debates such as the UN forum on the SDGs.
Being a UN youth representative is really interesting as it combines the best of both worlds. On the one hand you are involved with young people and youth work, and on the other hand you are involved at the international level and with foreign affairs.
There is a reason why the ‘UN’ (United Nations) is part of our title: in July 2019 Launy and I went to New York to attend the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), a UN meeting where the SDGs – Sustainable Development Goals – are evaluated by the member states.
A short and decisive visit
The first few days were pleasantly overwhelming: we discovered Manhattan, got to know the other UN youth representatives and tried to find our way around the UN headquarters. Believe me, this takes a good few days.. As a Belgian UN youth representative, you only go to New York once. Our plan? Make it a short and decisive visit and experience as much as possible during those 8 days.
Our plan? Make it a short and decisive visit and experience as much as possible during those 8 days.
We had no time to lose. From 7 am on the very first day, we attended the morning meeting of the Major Group of Children & Youth. And what is that? In a nutshell: at the HLPF, different 'major groups' get a forum. These groups are made up of under-represented groups in society that often stand to benefit from the advancement of the SDGs.
For example, besides the major group for indigenous peoples and women, there is also a 'major group' for children and young people, and as UN youth representatives we are part of that group. Thanks to these morning meetings, we were able to get a better idea of what was on the agenda for that day. In addition, we were able to meet young people from civil society from all around the world.
After the morning meeting, we rushed to the UN building to attend the meeting with the Belgian delegation. We went over the day's agenda in a practically empty delegates lounge. The mornings that followed were very similar.
Ethical and sustainable fashion
In addition to morning meetings, we also attended various side events with titles such as: "Tackling poverty from below" or "Data revolution for Ensuring Decent Work for All with a focus on youth". Or a side event on ethical and sustainable fashion that we happened to organise ourselves at the Permanent Representation of Belgium!
We wouldn't be "UN youth representatives" if we didn't deviate a little from the rather dry format that is usually used for side events (which of course doesn't detract from the content). We asked our audience about their (sustainable) clothing choices, let them choose their positions and discussed them with them.
Besides, our panel members were not the usual UN suspects. Launy shared her knowledge about sustainable and ethical labels, fashion activist Céline Semaan talked about the circular economy and her 'Slow Factory' and Elena Arengo of the International Labor Rights Forum explained the social side of the story and labour rights to the audience.
Keep banging on the table
In addition, together with the other UN youth representatives, we tried to stress the importance of youth representatives from the global South as much as possible. To date, this group has been under-represented. But youth participation in general needs to keep being highlighted.
We arranged an appointment with Inga Rhoda King, the president of ECOSOC (= the body that coordinates the economic and social aspects of the UN), and with Maria Fernanda Espinose, the president of the UN General Assembly. Funny fact: the Dutch UN youth representative Hajar ran after her after the official opening session in order to arrange a meeting. Sometimes you have to bypass protocol.
Critical voices, especially from young people, are essential to remind member states that sometimes we are not doing as well as some would like to suggest.
Overall, it was an extremely interesting experience that also brought us into contact with the reality. Youth participation should definitely not be taken as a given! We must continue to ensure that young people are given a voice in debates such as this one. Critical voices, especially from young people, are essential to remind member states that sometimes we are not doing as well as some would like to suggest. On the contrary. We still have enormous challenges ahead of us in terms of climate change, poverty and peace and security. The SDGs are a good starting point, but they must be more than a nice story. And that's why we all have to keep banging on the table.