Bangladesh was announced as the “OIC Youth Capital 2020” marking a significant recognition for the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her spirited Government in the youth sector. The Istanbul based Islamic Cooperation Youth Forum (ICYF), an entity affiliated to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), made this declaration on 25 December 2019. The selection of Dhaka as the “OIC Youth Capital 2020” will play a significant role to reflect a positive brand image of Bangladesh globally specially among the youth. The convergence of the yearlong events with the grand celebration of Bangabandhu Birth Centenary has amplified its significance to a great extent.
Ten elaborate mega-events, and several ancillary events, have been designed for celebrating “OIC Youth Capital 2020” which will be implemented through eight lead Ministries and Twenty co-lead Ministries round the year. As per the “Protocol of Commitment” between the Ministry of Youth and Sports and ICYF, Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the key “Partner” in the process and is expected to organize the inaugural and closing ceremony along with some other programs in between.
Today, close to half of the global population is under 30 years old. With an increase in the frequency and severity of natural hazards, disease outbreaks and man-made crises, young people ought to be at the centre of how the humanitarian system responds to crises. But the impact of crises on young people, and young women in particular, is often overlooked, as is their power as capable agents of change during emergencies and protracted crises. Young people are not just passively affected by crisis and disaster. They have the agency and capacity to lead in the response as well as in the recovery that follows. While development and humanitarian approaches still too often ignore the power of young people as capable agents of change, young people’s role in leading and shaping humanitarian response and recovery is increasingly recognised as necessary, not optional – not least to strengthen the humanitarian-development-peace nexus.
Young people can be doubly disadvantaged in protracted crises and emergencies and their needs must be considered through an intersectional lens. Young people are impacted by crises and disasters in many different ways depending on their relationship with power and privilege, and intersecting identities including race, gender, sexual identity, class, religion, physical ability and refugee status. There are some factors unique to young people – at the stage when they transition from dependence to independence – that combine to exclude them from existing power structures and prevent them from accessing support. To strengthen the response, needs assessments should therefore be intersectional and engage young people.
Young women must be be at one of the epicentres of humanitarian action and be supported in their participation and leadership in responses. The humanitarian system is dominated by patriarchy and often fails to listen to, be accountable to, and be accessible to women of all ages, including young women. Strength-ening young women’s participation and leadership at all levels before, during and after emergencies, is crucial to advance localisation in an inclusive and effective manner. Maximising the role that young women play in response means not just supporting them to design action plans, but also to lead on their implementation. Doing so ensures continuity in response and challenges existing perceptions on who is best positioned to lead action in communities, reinforcing the potential of young women and men.
Missed education, poor mental health and sexual violence are urgent challenges facing young people and must be prioritised and mitigated. Particularly relevant in this regard is the plight of the displaced Rohingya people from Myanmar. Young people in crises experience suffering, trauma and negative coping mechanisms that can have severe repercussions for their immediate and long-term wellbeing. It is very important that a global campaign is launched to raise awareness about the issue – particularly targeting the youth. Also, these and a prevalence of early marriage have been found to be of particular concern, but often not considered priorities (or funded enough) on the humanitarian agenda. Young women are disproportionately affected by sexual violence and negative coping mechanisms including early marriage. To mitigate this particular strand of crisis within the ambit of a more chaotic spectrum of disadvantages, young women’s rights and leadership, including women-led protection mechanisms, must have top priority.
Young people are first responders and must be included in decision-making and leadership positions at every stage of humanitarian action. Power dynamics too often exclude young people from decision-making spaces and reduce young people to being seen as mere labour or victims. It is essential to ensure youth representation on existing decision-making structures (for example community disaster preparedness committees), but also to support youth-led initiatives to be better recognised and integrated with existing decision making processes and protocols.
Young people are uniquely placed to play a valuable and necessary role in citizen-led accountability initiatives, and must be put in the driving seat for accountability. Due to young people’s higher levels of education than the previous generation, as well as their networks within the community, eagerness to question the status quo and innovative approaches e.g. using social media and technology to campaign and raise awareness, there are significant advantages to young people taking forward accountability work to ensure open, transparent and effective governance in emergency and crisis settings.
When young people live through emergencies and protracted crises, their lives will be forever changed as opportunities are lost and life projections diverted. The transformative nature of emergencies and protracted crises must be chan-nelled in ways that ensure this negative impact is limited as much as possible and allows young people to be involved in leading and driving initiatives that directly affect their lives.
Engaging young people in humanitarian action is however not a matter of if but how.