Speech voor de Algemene Vergadering van de Verenigde Naties,
8 oktober 2007
When I was a child, I had this fantastic book called ‘Children Just Like Me' from UNICEF. It was filled with beautiful pictures and stories of children from all over the world. I somehow felt connected to them, and I simply loved it.
Now that I have become a young person, I thought it would be great if there were a book called ‘Young People Just Like Me'. Besides meeting many inspiring young people in the Netherlands, I have been privileged to meet young people in India, in Tanzania and in China. There too I have been inspired by their strength, wisdom and energy. However, when looking further into the situation of young people around the world, I also became disheartened.
I found out that, had I been born in another country, I might have had a forty per cent chance of being illiterate. In some countries I would have had a thirty per cent chance of being infected with HIV/AIDS. And in yet other countries I would have had a zero per cent chance of influencing politics, since I, as a young woman, wouldn't have had voting rights.
It made me realize that young people's rights are being denied on a vast scale. I would like to emphasize though, granting us our rights is not about generosity. It's simply about not denying young people their rights.
Firstly in the field of education. Every child has the right to go to school. However, far too many young people, girls in particular, haven't had an education, but instead have had to work throughout their childhood. In the Millennium Development Goals we stated that in 2005 as many girls as boys should be going to school. The reality is that two thirds of the children out of school are girls. By providing equal access to education, young women will not only have an equal chance in the labor market, they will also have the confidence to stand up for themselves, and protect themselves against diseases like HIV/AIDS. Through education and engagement, young people can be empowered to fulfill their potential and become the active agents in society that young people ought to be.
Secondly in the field of sexual and reproductive rights. For young people - especially for young women and girls - there is a lack of access to information about sexual and reproductive health and rights, and a lack of access to safe and reliable contraceptives, including male and female condoms. These lacks not only deprive young people of their rights, they are also a threat to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The goals on maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, infant mortality and gender equality cannot be achieved without addressing sexual and reproductive health. This also includes sexual and reproductive health care services. Also a young woman should have the right to decide what will happen with her own body.
And, thirdly in the field of politics. In many countries young people are denied the right to speak out and voice their opinion. They are also denied the right to vote and to stand for election. In some countries this denial only applies to women. But even in countries where women do enjoy the right to vote and stand for election, they are still greatly underrepresented in local, national and international decision making bodies. I cannot make this more obvious, than by inviting you to look at your own government and count the women in key positions.
Though young women have the same rights as young men, young women have specific needs and challenges. Indeed, young people as a whole have specific needs and challenges. This was recognized by the General Assembly when it adopted the World Programme of Action for Youth in 1995. This was recognized again by the Commission on Social Development when it agreed the Supplement last February. This General Assembly has the opportunity to recognize this once again by adopting that Supplement.
It is a good Supplement, that has the potential to improve the lives of young people everywhere. However, goals and time-bound targets are still lacking to assess improvements. Luckily this General Assembly also has the potential to adopt a resolution that includes goals and time-bound targets for the first cluster, as proposed in the Secretary General's report.
Young people, especially young women and girls, are still facing poverty, insecurity, and inequality. Yet these young people are not represented here today because their countries did not bring a youth delegate.
What would they have said?
Some would have called upon you to ensure equal access to education.
Some would have called upon you to enforce sexual and reproductive rights.
Some would have called upon you to secure equal voting rights.
Since they are not here, and we are, their ‘would haves' are now our opportunities. Their ‘would haves' are now our possibilities. I believe that their ‘would haves' are now our responsibilities.
Therefore, I call upon all countries to fulfill this responsibility by ensuring equal access to education, enforcing sexual and reproductive rights, and securing equal voting rights.
As the youth delegate of the Netherlands, I do have the opportunity to address this Committee, and I would very much like to make one extra call of my own. I call upon you to adopt the Supplement to the World Programme of Action for Youth, and to adopt a resolution that includes goals and time-bound targets for the different clusters.
Let us act together now, to ensure that in 2015 both the Millennium Development Goals and the World Programme of Action for Youth Goals have been reached, that gender equality is a fact, and that the situation of millions of young people all over the world has improved dramatically.
By 2015, I may have children of my own. For sure I will read to them the book called ‘Children Just Like Me'. And maybe by then someone, inspired by the strength, wisdom and energy of young people, will have had the fantastic idea to make a book called: ‘Young People Just Like Me'. By then, hopefully with every reason to be heartened and cheerful, I would very much love to read that book.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.