arturo sanabria, courtesy of photoshareFrom November 14 to 15, FHI 360, on behalf of the IYWG, together with the Youth Health and Rights Collation hosted on online discussion titled, “The Road to Bali: Engaging Young People in Meaningful Ways.” The e-forum provided participants with the opportunity to engage with moderators in a discussion about including young people’s voices and needs in international policy, programs, donor decision-making processes and civil society consultations. The discussion was moderated by policymakers, program managers, donors and youth advocates. The online event generated a lot of conversation about what issues young people feel are most pressing, what meaningful youth engagement is, and what young people want to say to policymakers, donors, and program implementers.

One important topic that arose during this discussion was the distinction between “tokenistic” and meaningful youth participation. Young people do not want to be peripherally included in program planning or policy discussions. It is not enough to invite young people to attend these discussions; instead, young people want to be involved in these discussions, to be invited as active participants, and to take part in implementing the decisions made during these discussions. Many e-forum participants shared the exciting work they are doing through their programs to promote and strengthen youth participation.  These program examples included the “Tanora Garan’Teen” program in Madagascar, Restless Development’s work in Zimbabwe, and the Uganda Youth & Adolescents Health Forum.  This knowledge exchange provided positive examples of work organizations are doing right now to ensure that young people are not only present for discussions about issues that affect their health and well-being but active partners in developing and implementing programs to address the issues.

E-forum participants stressed that young people need not only to be included in program and policy discussions, but that the lines of communication need to be opened between young people and other stakeholders such as adults and religious leaders. Some e-forum participants shared barriers that they face, such as negative opinions of youth and taboos around discussing sexual and reproductive health, which impede their involvement in their own communities. It is important to remember that meaningful youth participation can occur at all levels including the local, country and global level.

As part of this discussion we asked participants what they felt were the most pressing issues affecting the sexual and reproductive health and human rights of young people. The most common issues that arose were unemployment, government corruption, and lack of sexual and reproductive health information. When asked what young people wanted to tell donors, policymakers, and program planners about these issues we received some great responses:

Thank you to all who participated in this great discussion. If you were not able to participate you can read the discussion archive here.