Speech/statement | Date: 2015-02-13 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
State Secretary Hans Brattskar's speech at the Youth Leadership Conference in Oslo 15 February 2015.
I would like to thank FK Norway for inviting me to address this year's Youth Leadership conference. I am delighted to be here and to see so many dedicated people in the audience. Many of you are representatives of NGOs in Norway or in one of FK Norway's partner countries. Some of you are students. Some of you are committed young volunteers. It is good that we can come together – to discuss ideas, to learn from each other, and to find new approaches.
This year's topic, youth participation, is particularly relevant. The 1.8 billion young people in the world today make up a quarter of the world's population. The Norwegian Government recognises and values the vital role young people play as partners and leaders in development. Our global community is facing tremendous challenges, such as increasing social and economic inequality, unemployment, environmental degradation, climate change and social instability. Those of us who are making the political decisions today need to be informed, influenced and challenged by your generation, as you will be responsible for shaping the world in the future.
Youth participation and youth leadership are closely connected. You are not only the future; you are an important resource for us right here and now. We are dependent on committed young people who want to lead and to make a contribution. In order to do so, young people need access to education, to jobs, and to leadership opportunities. How can we provide young people with the skills and opportunities they need? How can we encourage young people to participate and get involved in their communities, and in shaping their future?
The Norwegian Government is working hard to tackle the challenges young people face, both in Norway and abroad. We want a strong focus on democratic participation and on the rights of all people, and particularly of young people: freedom of speech, the right to education, and the right to decide over your own body. Norway is addressing these issues in the UN and in the process to define the post-2015 development agenda, together with other countries.
This process will culminate in a high-level meeting in September, where the next generation of Sustainable Development Goals is to be agreed on. The consultation process has been an extremely effective platform for mobilising discussion and input to the post-2015 agenda from a broad range of participants, including youth organisations at the grassroots level. For instance, youth organisations have advocated for universal access to comprehensive, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information, education, and services for young people and adolescents.
Active and meaningful youth participation and collaboration is essential to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights programmes and policies address the realities, as well as the most pressing concerns of young people. We must recognise young people's diverse needs and experiences and protect their rights to health, education and participation at every level.
A commitment to human rights lies at the heart of Norway's foreign policy and international development efforts. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is a cornerstone of our work with civil society organisations in many countries, and of our cooperation with UNICEF.
In many countries, young indigenous women face multiple discrimination. They are often subjected to extreme poverty and human trafficking, they are often illiterate, and they may be denied access to their ancestral lands. The health care services available to them are often poor or non-existent, and they are subjected to violence in the private and public spheres.
Participation in civil society organisations is a good way for women and girls to gain a stronger voice and more influence in society, and frequently we see that young women who have been active in such organisations become important agents of change in their societies.
If young people are to be able to participate fully in society, education is crucial. The Norwegian Government has put education at the top of its development agenda. Education is a prerequisite for sustainable economic growth and development. We have increased our financial support to education, both in our bilateral efforts and through multilateral channels. We are leading, and putting increased emphasis on, the 'Education for All' movement, where we are working closely with UNESCO and UNICEF, the World Bank, and civil society.
The growing population of young people across the globe also calls for the creation of millions of jobs. We are therefore investing in enhanced development cooperation with the private sector. Finding jobs for the large numbers of young people that will be entering the workforce in the coming years is one of our greatest challenges. Increased trade with developing countries and investment in the South are very important goals in our development policy. Close cooperation with the private sector is needed to make it possible for young people to find work.
What should we be doing more of? We need to provide more resources to education and health initiatives for children and youth, promote education beyond primary school, and maintain a closer dialogue with young people and development partners on what is needed for ensuring the best strategies and greatest impact of our common efforts. Young entrepreneurship and vocational training may be useful tools for job creation in many countries. In other regions, facilitating climate-smart agriculture or access to electricity may be the best strategy.
Many of you here today represent civil society. Building strong civil societies is a long-standing priority for the Government, both in Norway and in other countries. Public engagement and participation is important to democracy in all countries. Civil society is often regarded as a 'school of democracy' and it serves as an entry point to further involvement, especially for young people and women.
Voluntary organisations have a key role in civil society. The Government has recently presented a declaration on voluntary work. The declaration is currently being circulated for comments among civil society organisations in Norway. Above all, the declaration is a policy statement that recognises the importance of the voluntary sector as an arena for social participation and democracy building. Being involved in voluntary work gives young people knowledge, experience, a social identity and new skills. Voluntary work also builds a sense of community, improves the daily lives of many people, and promotes social development by questioning and helping to set the agenda. The declaration on voluntary work is an expression of the importance the Government attaches to the voluntary sector, and it provides a framework for productive, constructive interaction in the years ahead.
As a government agency under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, FK Norway is an integral part of Norwegian development cooperation and a strategic tool for the Government's focus on young people in international development. It represents a unique model that uses exchange programmes to promote social change. Young volunteers and young professionals take part in exchange programmes in different countries and cultures. The exchanges are sponsored by organisations, institutions and companies in Norway and developing countries.
The International Law and Policy Institute recently completed an evaluation of the FK volunteer youth programme and concluded that participating in exchange programmes strengthens young people’s cultural understanding and leadership skills, increases their civic engagement and enhances their skills and ability to participate in the workforce or voluntary sector after their exchange.
I hope this conference will inspire you and give you new ideas and tools you can take with you – whether you are a representative of a civil society organisation, a young activist, or a volunteer. I would like to commend you for the important work you are doing and urge you to keep it up. I wish you every success in your role as agents of change for a better world.