Sustainable Development Goals: How Youth Friendly is the Open Working Group Outcome document?

The Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals released its draft outcome document on July 19, 2014. I find it quite interesting that the conceptual framework of the proposals made in the document is grounded in poverty reduction. Given the amount of theoretical and methodological work that has been undertaken since the adoption of the MDGs, and progress made in this regard, measuring development outcomes based on a multidimensional poverty (and wellbeing) framework, is likely to be get better than it was in 2000. I also find the conceptualisation of the post 2015 development goals within a poverty framework interesting because the concept encapsulates many of the challenges being faced by youth in developing countries, and globally – for example unemployment.

The outcome document also contains a number of interesting youth related targets such as: education, employment, sexual and reproductive health/HIV, drug dependence, road accidents and education, to mention but a few. So, judging by the content of the current outcome document, how friendly is the set of proposals for youth?

Criteria for Youth Friendliness

What does it mean for a policy document to be youth friendly? This question has been asked in different forms in the youth policy review literature, and a number of positions have been advanced by different actors. However, I consider two of these positions to be the main competing ones. Firstly, many youth policy actors argue that the key criteria for youth friendliness of a policy document, such as the OWG outcome, should be the number of mentions of the word ‘youth’ and related terms such as young people, girls, boys and young women and young men. Secondly, others argue that what’s important is that the provisions of the document under consideration explicitly addresses the aspirations, needs and challenges of young people, whether or not the word youth is mentioned. With regard to the second criteria, some of the issues which have prominence in the policy literature include: unemployment, skills development, sexual and reproductive health and rights, prevention, treatment and care for HIV, and the challenges affecting mainly girls such as early and forced marriages. The OWG outcome document contains proposed targets which meet both criteria and which I outline below.

Direct mentions of youth

There are 10 direct references to youth, young people, girls and boys that I consider relevant[1] as outlined below.

  1. 4.1 by 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.
  2. 4.4 by 2030, increase by x% the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.
  3. 4.6 by 2030 ensure that all youth and at least x% of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.
  4. 5.1 end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
  5. 5.2 eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
  6. 5.c adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.
  7. 2030 achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.
  8. 2020 substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training.
  9. 8.b by 2020 develop and operationalize a global strategy for youth employment and implement the ILO Global Jobs Pact.
  10. 13.b Promote mechanisms for raising capacities for effective climate change related planning and management, in LDCs, including focusing on women, youth, local and marginalized communities.

Youth Related Targets

Further, the document generally contains a high number of items which could be considered to have various levels of indirect relevance to youth.  I have identified 21 targets from the OWG document (targets no: 3.1, 3.3, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 4.3, 4.5, 4.b, 4.c, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, 5.a, 8.3, 8.8, 8.9, 9.3, 10.2, 16.7, 17.18) which I consider as being directly relevant to youth. The targets highlighted above highlight an array of issues including maternal health, HIV/AIDS, infectious and neglected diseases, sexual and reproductive health, technical and vocational education, empowerment, and data collection for enhanced outcomes measurement.

Targets which could be reframed

In addition to those mentioned above, there are certain targets in the document to which specific mentions of youth could be inserted, particularly those that mention other demographic groups.

Key examples are highlighted below in bold.

  1. 1.2 by 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women, young people and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions;
  2. 1.4 by 2030 ensure that all men and women, particularly the poor and the vulnerable, including young people, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership, and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology, and financial services including microfinance;
  3. 2.3 by 2030 double the agricultural productivity and the incomes of small-scale food producers, particularly women, young people indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets, and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment;
  4. 11.2 by 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, young people, persons with disabilities and older persons;
  5. 11.7 by 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for women and children, young people, older persons and persons with disabilities

So is the OWG document youth friendly?

The draft outcome document does contain a number of important targets that are relevant to young people: 10 targets with direct mentions of youth and associated words, 21 targets which address policy issues most beneficial to youth and 5 targets which could be slightly modified to include mentions of young people. Taken together, these will comprise 36 targets related to youth, out of a total of 169 (just over 21% of the total number of targets).

As one who is more aligned to the relevance of the issues rather than a specific mention of youth, it is my view that the draft outcome document is fairly comprehensive in terms of the range and number of youth issues which it addresses. However, given that the OWG’s work is only one in an array of processes which will culminate in a general assembly (GA) session, it would appear that more work needs to be undertaken to ensure that these proposals survive the various rounds of future negotiations and make their way to a final GA outcome document. Furthermore, youth actors need to up their ante by proposing concrete quantitative indicators which will set the pace for the operationalization of the key targets related to youth.

Going forward I hope therefore that the current discussions towards developing a set of indicators for measuring the eventual post 2015 youth targets will move more quickly to operationalise these targets which already exist in the draft text as a way to make the case with UN member countries to ensure they are retained.


[1] Some targets were not counted despite mentioning boys and girls. For example target 4.2 which refers to early childhood education was not included.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s