Messages from the Resident Coordinator

Written on: Friday, 10 August 2018

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“The hopes of the world rest on young people. Peace, economic dynamism, social justice, tolerance — all this and more, today and tomorrow, depends on tapping into the power of youth.”

António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General

In 1999 the United Nations (UN) General Assembly first designated 12 August as International Youth Day. This day is an annual celebration of the role of youth as essential partners in change. It is used to raise awareness of the challenges and problems facing the world’s youth.

This year’s theme “Safe Spaces for Youth” highlights the need that youth have to come together in spaces where they can freely express themselves. In safe spaces youth can “…engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, participate in decision making processes and freely express themselves. While there are many types of spaces, safe spaces ensure the dignity and safety of youth. Safe spaces such as civic spaces enable youth to engage in governance issues; public spaces afford youth the opportunity to participate in sports and other leisure activities in the community; digital spaces help youth interact virtually across borders with everyone; and well planned physical spaces can help accommodate the needs of diverse youth especially those vulnerable to marginalization or violence.”

In Guyana, the UN System of agencies, funds, and programmes have been working in partnership with the Government to create “Safe Spaces for Youth” for several years. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has supported the Department of Culture, Youth & Sport to establish a number of Adolescent/Youth Friendly Spaces under an Adolescent/Youth Friendly Community Initiative that allowed young people to interact and to develop key life skills. The spaces are also used to have conversation at the community level on Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) for adolescents and youths. The spaces are managed with the full support of the respective community within which they exist, with oversight by the Department of Culture, Youth & Sport.

Taking into consideration that Guyana has the highest adolescent pregnancy rate in the Caribbean, the UN continues to support the Government to address adolescent sexual and reproductive health through adolescent/youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services. Currently, UNFPA, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) are supporting the Ministry of Public Health to formulate the Adolescent Health Strategy, which will encompass mental health, sexual and reproductive health, oral health, and substance abuse treatment and prevention services. Access to combination HIV prevention services is strongly encouraged by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) for young women to further empower and protect themselves. Reaching and engaging adolescent and youth members of key populations most at risk of HIV is especially critical, since they face additional barriers to services.  UNAIDS in collaboration with the Ministries of Public Health and Education has also supported the costing of youth targeted interventions within the HIV and AIDS National Strategic Plan (HIVision2020).

Engaging and responding to the needs of adolescents and youth is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). UNICEF has supported completion of a situation analysis of adolescent mothers in Guyana in  order to have the evidence to craft a response to reduce adolescent pregnancy; in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, a  reintegration policy for adolescent  mothers to have the opportunity to return to school was developed; and an Out of School Study was conducted to garner insight into the children who are most affected and likely to drop out of school. Recognizing that there is need to prevent and respond to violence, abuse and exploitation of children, UNICEF also successfully advocated for the passing of the justice juvenile bill, the establishment of the youth court and the family court.

Youth are consistently identified as being both the primary victims and the primary perpetrators of crime across the Caribbean. There are several risks and underlying factors that are often identified as contributing to high levels of youth crime inclusive of youth unemployment, especially among males, and growing poverty and inequality. High migration rates and family disintegration are primary risk factors associated with youth involvement in gangs, violence and crime. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is implementing the CariSECURE project, which supports strengthening national capacity and systems for increasing the availability and use of standardized and disaggregated crime and violence data on youths. The primary information, through enhanced information systems along with in-depth sectorial analysis, will be used to more effectively identify and measure youth crime and violence trends and resilience factors nationally. The data will be used to better elaborate recommendations for the design and modification of policies, programmes and interventions targeting youth.

Hinterland youth receive special intervention from the UN through UNICEF’s sports and culture for development programme for secondary school children. The hinterland region and all regions also benefit from a Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) in all primary and secondary schools, which was adapted from a life skills-based Sexual Education and HIV curriculum developed by UNESCO, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO and other partners.

The UN’s work supporting youth also includes programmes for vulnerable girls and young gay men through the provision of life and livelihood skills. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) supports development of livelihood skills by engaging young people in the production, processing and marketing of food in an effort to fight against hunger and food insecurity. To facilitate the enabling environment for young people to improve their food security, improve nutrition, and achieve greater economic independence by gaining decent jobs in the primary sector the FAO in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Government is implementing a regional project with a key component being the establishment of a fund to support the undertaking of rural youth livelihoods in market-oriented agricultural and food related activities, including production, small-scale processing, agro-tourism, and input supply and marketing. A total of 78 youth entrepreneurs will receive seed grant funding in amounts ranging between USD 500 and USD 3000. Guyanese rural youths have received the largest number of grants disbursed to any one of the six participating countries under the project.

Globally, the United Nations is guided by the World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY), which “…focuses in particular on measures to strengthen national capacities in the field of youth and to increase the quality and quantity of opportunities available to young people for full, effective and constructive participation in society.”

The United Nations in Guyana remains a steadfast partner of the Government and other national institutions to address issues affecting youth in order to elevate their potential as change makers in today’s society. By supporting the creation of safe spaces, the UN is enabling youth to “…effectively contribute to development, including peace and social cohesion.”

7 March 2018

The UN Security Council adopted resolution (S/RES/1325) on women and peace and security on 31 October 2000. Resolution 1325 calls for increased participation of women and gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts. It also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict. The UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security is important in empowering and protecting women and girls in conflicts and beyond.   

Guyana is fortunately a peaceful state but violence exists and gender-based violence is prevalent.  The Sexual Offences Act was passed in May 2010. Government sponsored help hotlines operate. Radio programmes sensitize the public on gender-based and domestic violence.  A Sexual Offences Court was established last year to facilitate and expedite gender based and domestic violence cases.  These are all important steps but the fight continues.  Prevention and support to victims, survivors and even perpetrators is critical and can only be done effectively in communities.  Neighbors, friends and families cannot be bystanders in the escalation of violence and need to know where and how to seek help.  Faith-based organisations, community groups and NGOs also play an important role in awareness raising and direct interventions to those who need help.  These organisations that work at the community level need predictable resources to strengthen and sustain services.    

Women, peace and security is a part of a broader global agenda for gender equality. 

In the words of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on International Women’s Day, achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.

We are at a pivotal moment for women’s rights. The historical and structural inequalities that have allowed oppression and discrimination to flourish are being exposed like never before. From Latin America to Europe to Asia, on social media, on film sets, on the factory floor and in the streets, women are calling for lasting change and zero tolerance for sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination of all kinds.

The activism and advocacy of generations of women has borne fruit. There are more girls in school than ever before; more women are doing paid work and in senior roles in the private sector, academia, politics and in international organizations, including the United Nations. Gender equality is enshrined in countless laws, and harmful practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage have been outlawed in many countries. 

But serious obstacles remain if we are to address the historic power imbalances that underpin discrimination and exploitation.

More than a billion women around the world lack legal protection against domestic sexual violence. The global gender pay gap is 23 per cent, rising to 40 per cent in rural areas, and the unpaid work done by many women goes unrecognized. Women’s representation in national parliaments stands, on average, at less than one quarter, and in boardrooms it is even lower.

Where laws exist, they are often ignored, and women who pursue legal redress are doubted, denigrated and dismissed. We now know that sexual harassment and abuse have been thriving in workplaces, public spaces and private homes, in countries that pride themselves on their record of gender equality.

The United Nations should set an example for the world but this has not always been the case. We have now reached gender parity for the first time in the UN’s senior management team, and this will extend throughout the organization. The Secretary General is committed to zero tolerance of sexual harassment. The UN is working closely with countries around the world to prevent and address sexual exploitation and abuse by staff in peacekeeping missions, and to support victims.

There is ample evidence that investing in women is the most effective way to lift communities, companies, and even countries. Women’s participation makes peace agreements stronger, societies more resilient and economies more vigorous. Where women face discrimination, we often find practices and beliefs that are detrimental to all. Paternity leave, laws against domestic violence and equal pay legislation benefit everyone.

Let us be clear:  this is not a favour to women. Gender equality is a human rights issue, but it is also in all our interests: men and boys, women and girls. Gender inequality and discrimination against women harms us all.

We need both women and men to stand up for gender equality.  

Pledges to Combat Climate Change

The United Nations Pledges To shine a light on risk informed national, regional and local development in the face of climate change. Recognising that climate change impacts, such as rising sea levels, changing weather patterns and more extreme weather events, can and do place the health and wellbeing of people at risk, the UN undertakes to strengthen national capacity in mainstreaming Disaster Risk Management in key sectors and build resilience of sustainable livelihoods against disasters, especially focusing on agricultural communities towards securing livelihoods and ultimately achieving national food security.