“The Milkbottle effect” – Youth Summits and Forums so White?
International Youth forums and summits have risen in both importance and participation in the last decade in particular. Evidence of this is a plenty in the Fridays for Future marches and the School Strike for Climate led by Greta Thurnberg. Young people’s agency in global movements is now undeniable. Harriet Thew has noted that the study of youth participation and agency is uncharted territory because before the 1992 Rio “Earth Summit” which established the UNFCCC youth were not officially recognized. Now with constituency status as YOUNGO these NSAs aim to protect the ‘future generations’ as their closest relatives. Membership is open to all under 30 and the constituency hosts forty accredited organizations. Some issues still remain entrenched. Most notably, UK delegate Mohamed Abdelrhman highlighted a notable diversity problem in his participation at the G7 2020 Youth Summit. He was 1 of 2 black delegates in cohort of 32.
Undoubtedly those delegates deserved to be there, but as Abdelrhman commented “maybe it’s time we started encouraging more diversity in spaces like this?” His experience at the G7 Youth Summit seems to be mirrored elsewhere. In 2019 at the G20 Japan Youth Summit of the 40 delegates, eight people of color were present and three of those people were black. This is a somewhat startling statistic. The UN Youth Champions for Disarmament recently had a chance to learn from two members of the UNODA’s Weapons of Mass Destruction branch. Whether due to the current COVID-19 crises or not participation in the event lacked diversity—although this researcher does note there were three cameras not available. Furthermore, in August 2020 the Youth Champions participated in the Webinar “Path Forward for Nuclear Disarmament” by the Hiroshima-ICAN Academy 2020, with again a lack of diversity. There were perhaps—fuzzy screen caps—five delegates of color, one of which was black, of the twenty participants. The Youth Delegates participation in the 37th Congress Session of the Council of Europe in 2019 also suffered from a lack of diversity—the photograph of the youth delegate congregation suggests that more work has to be done in encouraging diversity in these events. There is no shortage of delegations that ought to take a harder look at their membership and summit attendees.
The UN Women’s Generation Equality program starts in the right direction. Their words “imagine equality” where women and girls have equal say is encouraging. Their campaign has made serious efforts to engage young people both men and women of walks of life to join in the fight for equality. At the first ever Youth Forum on CSW in 2016, Ahmad Alhendawi argued that there was “no space for baby steps” and equality must be approached on a holistic scale. Danielle Agyemang of the National Endowment for Democracy pointed out that there should be an emphasis on inclusion and making sure that “minority voices” are heard even beyond the binaries of sexuality and gender. Because none of the work being done is worth it without those key voices.
Activist Munnira Katongole describes herself as an unapologetic, radical, Black feminist. She has argued that young women of color are experts of their own reality and need accountable solidarity not aid because social justice is economic justice. Climate change itself has illustrated disparities faced by Black, Indigenous and People of Color therefore there must be a “deep, just transition” to politically informed decision making with the inclusion of the vulnerable. The World Youth Report 2020 has shown that many youths have faced challenges limiting their engagement despite the recognition that the present generation has the potential the “create a paradigm shift” in sustainable development. Furthermore, that young people often face intersectional discrimination. Therefore, the UN should be promoting the inclusion of young people across the spectrum. The newest Youth Observer Dustin Liu is focused on dialogue as a tool for social change, as the son of two Taiwanese immigrants he is convinced even one voice can inspire change. Leading the way in inspiring change UN Women’s Bejing+25 Youth Task Force shows progress in the quest for diversity. Their delegation consists of 30 young leaders from “across intersectional complexities including marital status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, indigenous and ethnic identities, and refugee or migrant status.”
In some more positive news, of the ten chosen Youth Champions for Disarmament there are two delegates of color which is a far better statistic than Abdelrahman’s experience at the G7 summit. However, it is worth keeping in mind that the Global South and people of color make up the majority of the world’s population—diversity should be strived for. Perhaps it is time to focus on inclusivity regardless of ethnicity, gender, skin color, or nationality. We should all follow in the footsteps of UN Women by making sure our Youth Delegations fit the bill of diversity. Here at IDYL, our founder Yasmin Al-Douri noted the disparity and sought to change the situation. We strive to include and encourage diversity at all levels in youth initiatives, so we have created a database of all delegation programs young leaders can apply to. We thereby hope to set the first step towards the right direction and make information available to more young people.
 Harriet Thew, “Youth participation and agency in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,” International Environmental Agreements 18 (2018): 369-389.
 Youth Leaders call for “big leap” for gender equality at first CSW Youth Forum, March 14 2016: unwomen.org.
 Youth Social Entrepreneurship and the 2030 Agenda, World Youth Report 2020, Chapter 2: Youth Development and Participation, https://www.un.org/development/desa/youth/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2020/10/WYR2020-Chapter2.pdf.
 UN Women announces Beijing+25 Youth Task Force, unwomen.org.