Johannesburg, South Africa – 16 February 2018: United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake concluded her visit to South Africa and the final leg of a five-country trip with an interactive discussion with young people at a gathering held yesterday in Johannesburg.
Accompanied by the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Natalia Kanem, she listened as young women discussed their work, challenges and lessons in their struggle for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The dialogue, which was held as part of the Youth Pre-Conference of the 8th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, included keynote statements from young people and an interactive engagement on harnessing the demographic dividend in Africa and a rethinking of “the Africa we want”, including greater commitments from all stakeholders.
Speakers talked about the need for an alternative Africa created from innovative approaches that involved investing in young people – in leadership, in business and in social enterprise. In pursuing development on the continent, the speakers cautioned against forgetting the “gender dividend” – the gains accrued from investing in teenage and young girls’ health and education.
Speakers also shared their experiences in dealing with HIV/AIDS and appealed for partners and stakeholders to make honest interventions and to empower the more than the 700,000 young people in South Africa who are living with HIV with information on treatment, counselling and care.
In response, Ms. Wickramanayake underscored how much she identifies with the yearnings of young people, and that the issues raised resonated not only within South Africa but throughout the continent, particularly among young girls. On harnessing the demographic dividend, the youth envoy noted that Africa will need to invest in education and health.
“It is in investing now in their capacity and ensuring young girls have predictable health outcomes that Africa will be certain teenage girls today have a chance to realise their potential,” she told the gathering.
Dr. Kanem of the UNFPA encouraged young people to take up leadership and to hold those in decision-making levels to account. She challenged young people not to wait to be invited to the decision-making table and urged them to form networks and be part of the process. She further noted that as part of the 1.8 billion young people in the world, young people’s voices cannot be ignored anymore.