“The Time is Now” to Invest in Youth, Girls

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“The Time is Now” to Invest in Youth, Girls

Africa, Aid, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Education, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Labour, Population, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment, Women’s Health UNITED NATIONS, Jul 28 2017 (IPS) – The demographic dividend: though not a new concept, it is one of the major buzzwords at the UN this year. But what does it really mean? There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 around the world, the most in the history of humankind. In Africa alone, approximately 60 percent of its population is currently under 25 years old and this figure is only expected to rise. With this change in demographics comes more working-age individuals and thus the potential to advance economic growth and sustainable development, known as the demographic dividend. However, this will not happen on its own. Investments are required in areas such as education and sexual and reproductive healthcare in order to provide youth with opportunities to prosper, major components of the globally adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) new acting executive director Natalia Kanem, who assumed her new role after the unexpected death of former executive director Babatunde Osotimehin, sat down with IPS to discuss the issues, challenges, and goals towards achieving the demographic dividend and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Q: What is the demographic dividend and why is it so important? A: The demographic dividend is the economic boost that happens in a country when you have more people in productive working ages employed and contributing to the economy compared to the categories of young people or elderly who are dependents in economic terms. For many of the countries which dwell in poverty today, we are seeing this transition that was predicted to happen. Through the success in healthcare and sanitation, society has been able to increase life expectancy—people are getting older so we are getting lower death rates. At the same time, we are getting lower birth rates, which are happening in some of these countries, and that means the working-age population is going to have fewer mouths to feed, fewer shoes to put on the school-aged child’s feet. Many things have to also happen at the same time—it’s not just simply lowering the birth rate. You have to equip people to be able to be productive members of a society, and this means education is very important. Adolescent girls in particular should be equipped to reach their potential by providing education of certain types of skills or training. All of this is going to add up to much more societal progress, potential of young people fulfilled, and human rights being enjoyed. Q: Where does this fit in and how does it inform UNFPA’s work under your leadership? Does it signal a paradigm shift? A: We do feel that it is a paradigm shift, and what we are doing at UNFPA is making it accessible so that governments understand its relevance. The mandate of UNFPA is to promote universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and we feel that a woman’s choice is at the center of all of this. Right now, as girls get married young and are having coerced sexual activity young, they are really not able to decide for themselves about how many children they want, when they want to have them, and how they would like to space them. By giving women the choice to exercise their reproductive wishes and educating them—all of these things are going to ignite the potential of young people. These people have potential, they want to work, they want to be educated, they want to contribute—so let’s make it easier for them, let’s not hide sexual and reproductive health information. Not every method is going to work for every person, so we really look at human rights across the spectrum of choice. We also have a lot of experts who have been very strategic in thinking through what really makes a difference, and we can say emphatically that investment in sexual and reproductive health way outweighs the costs—you at least double your money, and if you do the whole package, you can actually get 122 times the investment. There is nothing on the planet that gives you that kind of payback. Q: Why isn’t it enough to just equip youth with skills and jobs? A: The young person exists in a societal environment like we all do, and girls tend to get left out of that picture. In the past, when we were thinking of farmers, we didn’t realize that more than half of the farmers were women. So we were giving all of the agricultural resources to the wrong people. And here we are saying the adolescent girl is half of the world and she also needs to be deliberately included. The cards will be stacked against her if we don’t protect her so she doesn’t fall into the trap of sexual and reproductive dis
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On July 28, 2017
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