Onali Ariyabandhu, UNFPA’s Social Change Campaigns Assistant, attended the ‘Conference on sharing international experiences on youth development policy’ held in Vietnam two weeks ago. She spoke about her inspiring work and why youth policies are essential.
Here’s her views on youth policy.
What can a youth policy really do?
Youth policies, youth mechanisms, youth agendas, youth charters, youth indices. These are common utterances at youth conferences, youth meetings, youth consultations and youth dialogues led by experts and emerging experts who have been working on youth issues for at different levels across the world.
But what would these actually mean to an ordinary young person who wakes up at 5am on a Thursday morning, takes a crowded train to attend 9am lectures at university, shares her home cooked lunch packet with 4 of her friends, goes for a movie with her boyfriend after lectures and takes an overcrowded bus back home and tells her parents that she got late to come home because she had an assignment to submit. How would she benefit? Or would she benefit?
These were questions I kept asking my self for one and half years until I started to learn that “youth work” can never succeed in a
country unless it applies to the real needs and wants of youth beyond the privileged ones and the “typical” youth leaders who end up claiming personal ownership over efforts an entire nation has worked towards.
This was when I got the opportunity of being part of Vietnam’s conference on “Sharing international experiences on youth development policies” on 2nd March 2016. Standing up on the podium where four other very senior experts spoke about youth work and policies in the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Philippines and Brazil, I was the youngest to share experiences from Sri Lanka.
I asked, “what is the use of having a stand alone youth policy in any country if other national policies don’t acknowledge or support the existence of a youth policy?”. In my opinion, there should be a correlation and coordination between a country’s youth policy and other policies. This is why I personally admire the work Sri Lanka is currently carrying forward to ensure that
Sri Lanka’s National Youth Policy or soon to be “Youth Charter” is in line with other policies such as the Health policy for young people and even education curricula for primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education. The process is not easy. It is not a clear path to travel with your eyes closed. The entire process of reaping the demographic dividend in my opinion is a trial and error process. Experiences can be shared by different countries as a learning tool to understand policy initiatives, but it will not give a ready made solution to address youth “issues” in a country.
Issue vs. Potential
The “issue” mentality is quite common in the field of policy development. With the amateur knowledge I’ve gathered through my one and half year hands-on experience in youth policy and youth participation in Sri Lanka, working with the “issue” mentality will not take Sri Lanka any further than talking about problems. Instead having the mentality of “maximizing youth potential” in my opinion would be a better and more focused approach to move beyond finding problems and actually identifying solutions to reap the demographic dividend Sri Lanka is about to miss out if we don’t try to identify realistic policy solutions in favor of our young people.
After sharing Sri Lanka’s experience on the you parliament and youth participation, my next step is not to hop in to the next big conference to talk more about youth participation in Sri Lanka. Instead, I prefer following the most logical next step; to ensure social change campaigns like OTW, 100 Voices and Art for Advocacy would reach its fullest capacity; educating, engaging, empowering and impacting youth in Sri Lanka through comprehensive sexuality education and the provisional youth policy formulation process sphere headed by UNFPA together with the Government of Sri Lanka.
After all, “youth” are not just a tick in the box, to check off a list and say “we’ve made our plans for you”. They are people with diverse opinions, suggestions and criticisms from whom we should understand that life isn’t uniform and we can not draw uniform conclusions. This is why a policy needs to translate into a realistic implementation strategy which would actually be implemented without making it a victim of bureaucracy and petty politics.