Who is responsible if the opportunities for young people to participate are limited; if perfectly capable and eager young people are unemployed and unable to support themselves and their families; and if young women and men do not have the right knowledge or have limited access to essential sexual and reproductive health services? And what exactly is the responsibility of the Government and what role do young people themselves play?
The first National Youth Conference in Zanzibar brought these issues to the table and what became clear during the discussions between policy makers, young people and the media was that there is no easy answer, but that everyone has a responsibility in development and only together can progress be achieved.
Sixty percent of Zanzibar’s population includes young people below the age of 25 years and the conference clearly demonstrated that they are ready to move the development agenda forward, if they are given the chance. And exactly here was the crux. While young people agreed that they have a responsibility, many felt that they lack the skills, information and ‘know-how’. The Conference was therefore an important way for young people to learn about the Zanzibar National Youth Development Policy, the draft constitution for the Zanzibar National Youth Council and also to provide the government partners with their input around these key policy frameworks. It was a platform for young people to strengthen their partnerships not only with the government, but among themselves and launch of the Zanzibar Youth Organizations Network (ZAYONET) was an important step forward to increased collaboration and harmonization between young people. For young people in Zanzibar getting information about reproductive health and HIV/AIDS can be difficult, information is often not youth friendly or not available at all. So everyone really appreciated the opportunity to learn more about how they can protect themselves, where they can get information and how to transfer this information to their fellows.
When after two days of intense discussions and presentations, Dr. Asha Mohamud, UNFPA East and Southern sub-Regional Advisor for Youth and HIV closed the Conference and urged young people to proactively look for solutions, advocate for change, build partnerships and always aim at self improvement, everyone felt much more empowered, informed and motivated to take on this joint responsibility for development.
Friederike is currently working as a Programme Analyst, Reproductive Health for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Zanzibar Liason Office. She joined UNFPA in March 2009.