From global climate strikes, to protests in Hong Kong and Jakarta, to young social entrepreneurs breaking barriers, young voices are beginning to be heard at all levels of society. And in a quiet bamboo pavilion in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, another form of participation was taking place. Fifty-three young activists from 11 Asian countries came together to discuss how they can help shape a better ASEAN.
“I came to AYF to represent marginalized communities in Indonesia, to share our struggles and learn from other countries’ strategies,” said Noval Auliady, 21 years old from Indonesia.
This was the 10th year of the ASEAN Youth Forum, a truly grassroots and youth-led initiative that brings together activists and community leaders each year to share strategies and ideas on ensuring young people’s voices are heard.
This platform also gives young people a chance to truly engage with ASEAN member States, with representatives from the ASEAN Secretariat and ASEAN senior officials at the meeting.
“I’m so excited to welcome all new faces of ASEAN youth, to witness young people come together to engage meaningfully at the forum and to represent the unheard youth voices in Southeast Asia,” said Devandy Ario Puturo, the AYF Coordinator for Indonesia.
This years’ theme was localizing the Youth Development Index (YDI) – a milestone document for ASEAN because it recognizes youth development as a critical pillar of a country’s development.
The YDI is a group of indicators that show how effectively youth development is happening across areas such as education, health, employment, and participation. The first iteration of the ASEAN YDI was published in 2018 in partnership with UNFPA. And youth input and feedback into the YDI at meetings such as this is vital if it is to truly reflect the state of youth in ASEAN.
“This year we gathered a very diverse and inclusive group of young people to give their inputs on the ASEAN YDI and how they will implement their national action plans based on the conclusion of the discussions,” Puturo commented.
The challenge of measuring participation
UNICEF encourages governments, agencies, and others to recognize the importance of youth participation and the power of youth as change makers. It was in this vein that we worked with young people at the ASEAN Youth Forum to hear their opinions about what participation means to them, what challenges they face to meaningfully participate, and to recommend additional indicators to reflect youth participation in the YDI.
Within the YDI the participation pillar has two indicators:
- Percent of youth who have volunteered time to an organization in the past month
- Percent of youth who have helped a stranger or someone they did not know in the past month
While perhaps limited by available data, the indicators above do not paint a full picture of youth participation, which includes participation in family, health and work-related decisions, and community and civic participation.
So, what did we learn?
In our discussions with the acitvists – many of whom were working to further causes such as gender equality, LGBTIQ rights, ending discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, and supporting youth empowerment and refugees and migrants – we heard that participation means being involved and expressing your voice to contribute to social issues, policy making and to develop yourself.
Although most participants were quick to define participation as civic participation such as protesting or petitioning the government, upon further reflection they also recognized opportunities to participate in other areas of life, such as in school clubs and councils, community groups, health decisions and family decisions. The decision of what university to attend, for example, was raised as something that often youth are not involved in; instead their track is selected by their parents.
Youth frequently raised the issue of the need for participation to be non-judgmental, non-discriminatory and for them to feel safe, with no fear of reprisal. This includes the online sphere, which is frequently used as a space to share their voice, but where many young people don’t necessarily feel safe in doing so.
When asked why participation is important to them, the participants stressed that participation promotes empowerment, tolerance and inclusion, equality and systemic change.
How can you support ASEAN youth participation?
With its diverse and dynamic network of youth, the AYF served as a reminder that young people are passionate about sparking change in their communities and countries, and they are actively looking for opportunities to get involved.
But, they also need the right skills to help them take advantage of participation opportunities. For example, active listening, advocacy, negotiation, and communication skills were mentioned as skills that would support participation. “We need community building skills to bring people together,” one participant commented.
Following the Forum, participants were asked to develop action plans for disseminating the YDI further among their communities to widen the feedback circle. “I attended the AYF because I want to feel empowered and part of something bigger,” said Angel Bonifacio, one of the representatives from the Philippines. “I also want to bring the outcomes of the AYF back home, to help other Filipino youth find their voice.”
But providing feedback to ASEAN on the YDI indicators is not the end of the road. YDI is a great milestone and starting point, but there is much room for improvement for it to effectively capture the circumstances young people face in ASEAN.
AYF participants noted the YDI does not measure youth empowerment, recognize gender disparities within the domains, or measure the frequency of violence among and against, such as bullying or sexual abuse, for example. Furthermore, participation in social and environmental causes, such as human rights, climate action, LGBTQ rights, is not reflected in the indicators.
At UNICEF, we look forward to staying engaged with AYF and the YDI localization process and hope to continue to contribute to this important effort.