Diverse and dynamic: Indonesia’s youth are key to the Sustainable Development Goals

By Anita Nirody 

Seventeen years ago today, the United Nations declared 12 August as  the International Youth Day. This declaration recognizes the important of engaging young people to contribute to global development.

Recently I had the opportunity to interact directly with some youth representatives in Indonesia. During my visit to Yogyakarta last week to visit UN projects, I learnt from the young people about the issues they care about. It was my first visit outside Jakarta since arriving as Resident Coordinator at the United Nations in Indonesia. During my visit, I met with young people engaged with our projects, and with university students. I was struck by their passion for positive change and their drive to make a difference. One student from Gadjah Mada University shared her concern about the impact of climate change and how it should be addressed. Another student pointed to the importance of good infrastructure and transportation, which needs to develop without costing the environment. Yet another student discussed the role women can play in promoting peace through inter-faith and inter-ethnic dialogue. I heard about a young man’s home village, Nglanggeran, which has been voted best eco-tourism destination in ASEAN and how other regions could learn to develop sustainably. 

The number of young people in Indonesia is around 65 million people, which presents a tremendous potential for the country to capitalize on this vast resource.

The youth in Indonesia are not a homogenous group. They have unique insights into issues that impact them, and care about a vast range of subjects spanning across all development areas. The big questions remain, have meaningful partnerships been established with young people in Indonesia? What are the priorities and concerns of young people in this country?

Almost two years ago, UN member states committed themselves to a set of interconnected and universally applicable goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Indonesia has played a leading role in shaping the Sustainable Development Goals, commonly known as the SDGs and is well on its way to implementing them. The Presidential Decree on the SDGs in Indonesia marks a milestone in the journey towards ending extreme poverty by 2030. The SDGs provide clear guidelines and targets to be achieved over the next few years so that no woman, man or child is left behind. Critical to achieving the goals is the role of young people. The 2030 Agenda states that “the future of humanity and of our planet lies in our hands. It lies also in the hands of today’s younger generation who will pass the torch to future generations.” More than one third of SDG targets reference young people explicitly or implicitly, with a focus on empowerment, participation or wellbeing.

However young people also face unique challenges. For example, although gender parity has been achieved in primary education, young women are still falling behind. In Indonesia, one in four girls are married before the age of 18, and around half a million teenagers give birth each year. Poor access to skills and jobs has driven up youth unemployment, with one in five young people without decent work. Certain social groups such as indigenous youth, and youth with disabilities often face distinct and multiple forms of discrimination.

To achieve the SDGs, everyone needs to be on board. Government, the private sector, philanthropy, and development partners can do more to listen and integrate the voices of young people to address the issues that face them. During my time in Yogyakarta, I met young people speaking up, and getting organized by launching self-motivated campaigns and calling on their networks to act. Through these activities, they are already supporting Indonesia’s sustainable development in remarkable ways.

In partnership with the Government of Indonesia, the United Nations is committed to supporting young people tackle issues that matter to them. For example, UNFPA is helping young people access information and services around reproductive health, and working with the Government to develop Indonesia’s first-ever Youth Development Index. This will help the Government deliver improved and targeted policies and programmes to youth. UNESCO is providing opportunities for young people to contribute to the cultural heritage  preservation in in  Indonesia, through  preservation  activities in the cultural sites as well as  the development of creative industries and art cultural activities such as batik, ceramics, traditional dances  and local handicrafts. UNICEF is supporting Pramuka, the Indonesian scouts movement which has 22 million members nationally, to help youth embrace new technologies and be heard

UNDP has called on young people to help protect the Sumatran Tiger through a new crowd funding campaign. UN Volunteers are providing online and offline opportunities for young people to make a real difference in the world around them. We are supporting Government to establish a Youth and SDG Platform to enable them to contribute their perspectives to the development of their country. At the global level, the United Nations Secretary General endorsed the Action Plan on Youth in 2015 to bring young people to the world’s attention The theme of this year’s International Day is on ‘youth building peace’. Since the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2250 in 2015, there is growing recognition that young people around the world are critical actors in conflict prevention, sustaining peace and driving sustainable development. We are seeing the largest generation of youth in history. They are healthier, digitally more connected and educated than ever before. We have an enormous opportunity to harness the potential of young women and men to achieve peace, prosperity, and ultimately the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The time is now to partner with youth so we can all benefit from their energy and worldview.  

Anita Nirody is the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Indonesia

This opinion piece was originally published in Kompas Newspaper, 12 August 2017 


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