Harnessing the Demographic Dividend means Harnessing the Gender Dividend, Investing in Alternative Africa and Reaching Vulnerable Youth: Young People Tell UNFPA Executive Director and UN Youth Envoy

13 February 2018
UN Secretary-General’s Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake and UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem in a panel with young people at the Youth Pre-Conference. 13 February, 2018. Photo Credit: Sarah Kenyi

On 13 February 2018, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem, shared a panel with the Youth Envoy, Ms Jayathma Wickeramanayake in a dialogue with young people at the Youth Pre-Conference of the 8th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights .

The dialogue involved hearing four keynote statements from young people to set the stage for the exchange with the UNFPA Executive Director and Youth Envoy. It was argued by the young people that harnessing the demographic dividend in Africa required not only rethinking the Africa we want, but also upscaling the commitments required. The first speaker imagined an alternative Africa and called for ongoing efforts to rethink the approaches in investing for the future of the continent. To do this, UNFPA Youth Advisory Panel member, Bhongolwethu Sonti offered a perspective on investing in young people – in leadership, in business and in social enterprise. As this is done, young people offered caution for these efforts not to forget the “gender dividend”…the gains resulting from investing particularly in teenage and young girls’ health and education. Closing the keynote addresses, young people also shared experience on young people and HIV/Aids – particularly in South Africa.  Tshepo Ngoato, another UNFPA Youth Advisory Panel member appealed for partners and stakeholders to make honest interventions and empower the more than 700,000 young people in South Africa who are living with HIV with information, services and care.

Responding to the interventions, the Youth Envoy underscored how much she identifies with the yearnings of young people, and that the issues raised resonated but within a country and continental level, particularly for young girls. In an emphasis on harnessing the demographic dividend, the Youth Envoy noted that Africa will need to invest now on 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 stressed.

On her account, the UNFPA Executive Director encouraged young people to take up leadership, to hold those in decision making levels to account. Dr. Natalia Kanem challenged young people not to wait to be invited to the decision making table. When they are not part of the official group, form networks and be part of the process, noting that as part of the 1.8 billion young people in the world, young people’s voices cannot be forgotten.