EVERY OPINION COUNTS
volunteers engaged young people in Azerbaijan in an open conversation about their priorities for the post-2015 development agenda
BAKU, October 2013 - “If I had a chance to be born again, I would choose to be born nowhere else but in my village. I don’t want to move to the city, I just want to be able to get everything I need as a young person in my village,” said 19-year-old Firuza Guliyeva from the remote rural area in Gedebey during the National Youth Consultations held in Shirvan, Azerbaijan. For young people to be heard and considered during decision making came up as one of the most salient themes during the national consultation process in Azerbaijan - part of the ongoing global conversations being led by the UN and world leaders to build a collective vision of a new post-2015 development framework.
The consultations aimed to engage people from every walk of life, with specific focus on vulnerable groups, those hard to reach, whose voices are not always heard. Between March and June 2013, more than 2,700 people shared their voices in the process of the consultations and through MY World survey. Those participating in the consultations included young people and women (particularly, in rural areas), children, persons with disabilities, internally displaced persons (IDPs), academics, international development partners, think tanks, private sector, entrepreneurs, business associations, journalists, and NGOs.
A total of 5 consultations were specifically designed by UNICEF for youth, from both urban and rural areas, to make the post-2015 discussion process accessible to young people from all parts of the country and ensure the diversity of youth voices.
“We made sure that people know that every opinion counts and the ideas of young people of Azerbaijan are reflected in the global conversation,” said Sevinj Muradova of NUR Children and Youth Public Union UNICEF’s main partner for facilitation of consultations.
“We did this by promoting the role of young people as agents of change and mobilizing young volunteers in outreach campaigns. It was not possible to gather everyone at the consultations, so we had to do an extra effort of making sure every voice is heard. The participants volunteered to do face to face interactions with their neighbors, friends, relatives, classmates to collect the missing opinion,” she said.
UNICEF together with NUR was able to achieve for further engagement of young people in MY World by promoting the role of young people as agents of change: colorful copies of ballots were printed out and young people volunteered to go back to their communities to collect the voices of those who could not get a seat during consultations or vote online.
Youth mobilizers were inspired by the process and went a step further in their outreach effort by providing detailed explanations regarding the information put forth in the MY World data set , such as MDGs and country’s priorities.
Discussions held nationwide with youth brought together a total of 308 young people. The national consultation participants in urban areas were encouraged to complete My World survey online. With an uneven access to the Internet in rural areas, the participants were requested to fill in the survey printed ballot cards.
“Jointly with our partners – from civil society and the Government - we had to make sure the national youth consultations were accessible to young people from all parts of the country and ensure a diversity of voices is present. We have been telling young people present at the consultations to remember that they represent not only their own opinion but also the opinions of at least 100 their peers who could not make it to the consultations,” said Aida Ailarova, UNICEF Youth and Adolescent Development Officer.
“For many participants, especially in remote rural areas, this was the first opportunity to discuss issues related to a development agenda in an informal setting. For the first time in its history, the UN provided unique opportunities for the people of Azerbaijan to share their aspirations for the world they want to live in beyond 2015,” she said.
Initial findings of the UNICEF-led youth consultations show that youth aspire to a socially inclusive society in which they feel valued, with opportunities to learn well, find decent work, engage productively in the community and have a voice. It is interesting to note that major issues that emerged – both during consultation and outreach effort - are the same: education, corruption, unemployment, issues of people with disabilities, gender equality.
The outcomes of the post-2015 national consultations are consistent with the priorities articulated in the Azerbaijan: Vision 2020 strategic plan which, primarily, strives for the transition from a traditional economy to a knowledge-based economy.
Azerbaijan has been chosen, as one of the 88 countries, to hold extensive consultations at the national and sub-national levels in order to feed into the Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to kick start the national post-2015 priority setting. Along with 189 other UN Member States, Azerbaijan adopted the MDGs as a development framework to guide policy through 2015. The country has made tremendous progress since 1990.
Today’s adolescents and youth are 31 per cent of Azerbaijan’s population. According to the joint survey by the MOYS and UNICEF: 33% of work eligible youth are unemployed; more than 50% of adolescents and youth are not able to access the information they need; available sport facilities are not female-friendly; social services are not accessible for 70% of youth in their location.
Over the past decade, Azerbaijan has seen drastic reduction in the level of poverty, new investments in social services, the establishment of a social security system, and increased salaries. However, a number of areas require additional attention within the MDG framework, namely: gender equality and women’s empowerment, nutrition and child mortality.
“I hope what we say and suggest will make a difference", Imran Imanov, 16-year-old schoolboy from Barda said at the National Youth Consultation in Tartar, Azerbaijan.