The World Youth Conference was convened by the Mexican Government from 23 – 27 Aug in Leon, Mexico. The Conference consisted of four main meetings: the NGO Forum, the Governments Forum, the Social Interactive Forum, and the Legislators Forum. A series of regional pre-conferences were also held in the lead up to the World Youth Conference.
The NGO meeting took place on 23 – 24 Aug and brought together 208 young NGO representatives from 153 countries. The main aim of the NGO meeting was to develop a common position about global development priorities for young people and to hold governments accountable to promises established in the MDGs and other international agreements. The main output of the meeting was an NGO statement that was presented to government representatives at the Government Forum.
The NGO statement was supposed to be a mechanism to ensure youth participation in the Government Meeting, as it was supposed to inform the negotiation process for the Government Declaration. The NGO statement was one of the conference’s main points of controversy. The NGO meeting was organised by the Social Forum Committee (SOFOC) 1 with support from IMJUVE, the Mexican Government’s Youth Institute. NGO delegates were selected from an open online application process. The SOFOC selected two representatives per country from among the applicants. Over 400 delegates were selected, but only around 200 delegates were able to attend due to issues with visas and travel arrangements. NGO delegates participated in working group sessions over the two days to discuss key themes based on the draft government declaration.2 After the working group sessions, the NGO statement was finalised by a plenary voting system in the late hours of second day. Overall, the final NGO statement is quite strong on progressive sexual and reproductive rights (SRR) language, including:
Guarantee the rights of young people, including the right to safety, food and water; the right to education; the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights; the right to decent work, the right to freedom of assembly, expression and movement; the right to participation; and the right to non-discrimination.
Education Improve the quality and relevance of educational curricula in public schools at all levels … including intercultural, civil and peace education, solidarity, human rights education, 1 The SOFOC members included 10 international and regional non-governmental youth organisations/networks: Ibero- American Youth Space, International Falcon Movement – Socialist Educational International, European Youth Forum, International Federation of Liberal Youth, Latin American Youth Forum, Pacifics Youth Council, Pax Romana, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, World Organization of the Scouts Movement, YMCA 2 Public policies and investment, poverty and hunger, education, health, employment, gender equality, technology and innovation, culture, access to justice and security, participation, sustainable development, international migration, international cooperation education for sustainable development, evidence‐based comprehensive sexuality education to achieve MDGs 5 and 6…
Guarantee the full realization of the right to the highest level of physical, mental and social health for young people, and strengthen our efforts to achieve the goals and targets of MDGs 4, 5 and 6; above all, the target lagging farthest behind, MDG 5b — Universal Access to Reproductive Health by 2015; Achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services for all young people, as agreed in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, and ensure that young people living with HIV (YPLHIV) are meaningfully involved at all levels of the response. Recognize that the health and welfare of YPLHIV is both a human rights imperative and a health priority. Fully recognize young people’s sexual and reproductive rights, particularly the right to choose, through achieving universal access to confidential, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, including access to evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education, in formal and nonformal settings. Implement key effective interventions in the continuum of care for maternal health, including access to a full range of contraceptives and safe abortion.
Recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex and queer (LGBTTIQ) identities as part of the spectrum of gender and sexual identities and ensure that young people that identify themselves as such have their human rights upheld; The inclusion of this language was a result of coordinated efforts by young SRR advocates who collaborated in all aspects of the WYC. However, this language sparked strong opposition from conservative groups, including the World Youth Alliance and C-Fam. Some of these conservative groups have launched a smear campaign to discredit the NGO statement and the NGO meeting more broadly. There were undoubtedly several major shortcomings with the organisation and implementation of the NGO meeting. For example, the facilitators in the different thematic groups had different understandings of what the objectives of the group work were. Some focused on making editorial changes to the draft government declaration, others decided not to focus on the government declaration and asked delegates to identify the priorities of young people irrespective of what was written in the draft declaration, while others instructed groups to identify gaps in the government declaration and focus only on aspects that were missing rom the draft text. As a result, the recommendations from each of the thematic groups differed greatly from one another in terms of format, depth of content and scope.
For example, the gender group was asked to only focus on gaps in the draft government declaration, so their final recommendations focused completely on gender identities and sexual orientation. However, they completely left out any mention of girls and young women, since the gender section of the government declaration focused mainly on those groups. The voting process was also challenging because the methodology of the session was not initially clear to all delegates. Organisers gave space for delegates to agree on a process to move forward, however some delegates felt it didn’t offer enough space for dialogue, debate and consensusbuilding.
Also, the main moderator of the voting process was not a young person, which demonstrated a lack of commitment to meaningful youth participation. In the early parts of the voting process, there was considerable opposition to some SRR issues. For example, statements around human rights and gender identities were voted out of the NGO statement. There was also a lot of debate around issues such as foreign occupation, indigenous groups and gender identities. The health section was the final section reviewed. It was adopted by near unanimous votes in favour of all the paragraphs. It was a huge victory for the SRR community.
A few reservations were expressed from anti-choice young people, but overall, the health section received the largest amount of votes to endorse the section. Despite these challenges, the NGO statement closely reflects and embodies the discussions and agreements made during the WYC NGO meeting. As such, it should be treated as a valid output from this international NGO forum. Nevertheless, this document is not a strong SRR advocacy tool, mainly because the final document lacks professionalism (ex: using incorrect names for international agreements) and isn’t consistently strong on SRR issues in all sections. The Guanajuato Declaration (Outcome Document of the Governments’ Forum) The Global Governments’ Forum took place from 25th – 27th August and brought together 112 official government delegations. The delegations were mostly headed by Ministers in charge of Youth or their representatives and the outcome document of this three day meeting was the Guanajuato Declaration. The NGO statement developed during the NGO meeting was supposed to influence the negotiations around the Guanajuato Declaration.
The Forum was chaired by Mexico with support (at least in theory) from 9 Vice Chairs, three from each of Africa, Asia Pacific as well as Latin America and the Caribbean. These Vice Chairs were supposed to be the mouthpieces of their regions and coordinators of any language proposals emanating from their regions. In practice though, information on when, if, where, and how language negotiation was going to take place was unclear up until the end of the second day of the Governments’ Forum. The Mexican government prided itself on the fact that the draft of the declaration had been the product of three pre-conferences as well as online consultations. The process was largely closed and many country delegations did not see a copy of the revised document until the last morning when they had thirty minutes to analyse and raise any concerns with their regional groups. The bulk of the government forum focussed on country presentations whilst bilateral language negotiations were held by the few governments who were aware that these negotiations were taking place.
In addition, the Mexican Government did not sufficiently encourage government delegates to refer to the NGO statement in the negotiation process. In fact, only the introduction of the NGO statement was presented to the government delegates and hard copies of the NGO statement were distributed in a haphazard manner. In the end, some allies and young SRR advocates who were members of government delegations worked with the SRR caucus to get some progressive language into the draft. This language was inspired by previous international agreements and by the NGO statement.
The Guanajuato Declaration itself is not a strong document from an SRR perspective although it does not seem to have any major problematic language either. For instance on families, it recognizes: “… the need to develop policies and laws that better support the family, contribute to its stability and take into account its plurality of forms;” [this is taken from the ICPD PoA] OP7: Promote the enrollment and retention of young people in educational institutions at all levels, including secondary, technical, vocational, and higher education with special attention to women and young people living in poverty and in vulnerable situations; OP 9: “Improve the quality and relevance of educational curricula at all levels and orient educational programmes towards the comprehensive development of young people that includes: intercultural, civic and peace education, solidarity, human rights education, education for sustainable development, comprehensive education on human sexuality, the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as the formulation of competencies and conditions for employability taking into account necessities of the local context;”
Despite the weak nature of the Guanajuato Declaration, conservative governments and anti-choice civil society are unhappy with the inclusion of progressive language, especially reference to comprehensive sexuality education, the lack of reference to parents, and language around the diversity of families.
It is not strategic for progressive advocates to use this document for advocacy efforts, either. The process of negotiations and methodology of the governments’ forum was non-transparent and non-participatory. It is important that this process does not serve as precedent for any similar conference in the future.