Young People on the March for Education

July 9, 2013
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This blog originally appeared in the HuffPost IMPACT blog site on 9 July 2013.

By Chernor Bah, Youth advocate and former refugee from Sierra Leone

People used to believe that young people didn’t care about much. Youth had few opportunities to correct this misconception as they were offered little involvement in shaping decisions that affected their lives. That’s so yesterday! Today’s youths are more connected, more aware and more engaged than we probably ever have been. And on the one issue that is the most important for our future — and the present — the issue of education, we are now taking over!

Our movement will take its message to the highest stage, when around 600 young leaders from over 75 countries converge at the United Nations on Malala Day. July the 12th is Malala Yousafzai’s 16th birthday. Malala is the courageous Pakistani activist, who dared to challenge the Taliban and fought for the education of girls in her country. She’s celebrating her birthday by addressing a Youth Take-over of the UN and delivering a speech to a global audience of millions.

Her courage has inspired and galvanized young people everywhere and we’ll be gathering at the United Nations to hear her make her first public remarks since the vicious attack on her and to stand by her side demanding concrete action to ensure that children everywhere — boys and girls — go to school and learn.

This is certainly not a new demand. In every single global survey that has been done, education has ranked top or near the top of priorities for young people everywhere. What is different this time is that we are no longer just saying it’s important, we are speaking up, mobilizing and organizing with a wide range of partners to make the dream a reality.

The momentum has been building since last September, when the UN Secretary General launched his Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) and chose education as one of his top priorities for his second term agenda. To support the initiative, the Secretary General appointed me as the youth representative on the High Level Steering Committee, and together with the key partners, we set up a Youth Advocacy Group (YAG) for GEFI. The YAG is comprised of 15 outstanding youth leaders from around the world who are leading efforts to build momentum and galvanize action for global education.

Leading up to Malala Day, the YAG has drafted an outcome document, The Youth Resolution: The Education Young People Want, which will be adopted in New York on Friday and distributed to all member states of the United Nations as an official document conveying young people’s demands on education.

Through an extensive online and offline consultation process, young people from over 60 countries have already made inputs and contributed to shaping the narrative. A key demand of this document is for the Security Council to adopt a resolution that recognizes and swiftly address “the education emergency”– the fact that with less than two years before the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, 57 million children are out of school and many more are not learning.

We are calling on world leaders to take concrete actions to ensure equitable access to education for all, especially girls and other marginalized groups. We understand and have been involved in the debates around crafting new post-2015 development goals, but youth are refusing to accept that the goals set in 2000 cannot be met. With increased funding and the right policies and programs that cater to specific needs. We believe that the promise made in 2000 on education can be kept. In fact, we are demanding that it has to be met.

It’s not only in New York that these voices will be heard. From parliament takeovers in Burundi and Sierra Leone, to youth led events in Liberia, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, youth leaders and partner organizations are coming together around the world to highlight local education issues and accelerate action. They’ll be standing in solidarity with Malala, endorsing her petition and the Youth Resolution. Millions more will be active online.

When the Taliban decided to attack Malala Yousafzai last September, little did they realize that they would help awaken a sleeping giant and mobilizing a generation of young people to say loudly that enough is enough. Going to school should not make anyone a target and education should be accessible to all. We gather in New York to announce the start of a movement that is not going to falter until that fundamental human right – and the single biggest investment for a more peaceful, democratic and prosperous future — EDUCATION — so that it becomes a reality for all!

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in association with the A World at School campaign to mark Malala Day. Malala Day will take place at the United Nations on July 12, 2013 — the 16th birthday of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for wanting to go to school. On that day, Malala will address 500 young campaigners as part of a special youth takeover of the United Nations. For more information, visit aworldatschool.org.

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