today, there are 1.5 billion people worldwide between the ages of twelve and twenty-four, with 1.3 billion living in developing countries (1)--the largest generation of young people the world has ever known. As a key population, youth should be meaningfully involved in the formation of policy that affects them. It is likewise essential that young people have decision-making roles on youth-related issues. People of the same age group better understand their common needs, capacities, and limitations. As awareness about the importance of youth representation in decision making increases, so, too, does the involvement of youth advocates in programmes and events, such as the 2010 World Youth Conference in Mexico, the Youth Programme of the International AIDS Conference, and the Youth Symposium at the 2010 Women Deliver conference. The question is, how are the youth advocates selected, and are they the best people to speak on behalf of the world's youth?
MORE YOUTH, MORE PROBLEMS, BUT EVEN MORE SOLUTIONS
At the 2010 XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, I witnessed a speech made by a young, HIV-positive Romanian man, who gave a basic report on what his life was like and the specific challenges he had to face. What made his speech so powerful to the one thousand health professionals and advocates in attendance was his honesty. "I'm sorry I cry, but I know how much I feared that I could infect my girlfriend, and that she would have to go through what I had to go through," he said. Many cried along with him.
To be effective advocates, we need to know what's really important. Sensitizing decision makers is hard, and credibility is a key ingredient for success. The point of view of young people on the problems of youth is significantly different from that of an adult's. Nida Mushtaq, a member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, a non-governmental organization comprised of youth between fifteen and twenty-nine years of age who promote the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents and youth, best summarized this: "Self advocacy," she said, "is the best advocacy."
YOUTH LEADERSHIP IN KEY POPULATIONS
It is only relatively recently that developed countries have had youth adequately represented in both the media and politics. Youth representatives often apply for positions, which have become more and more competitive, simply to ensure that scarce media space is not allocated to self-promotion but, rather, to youth who sign up as genuine volunteers.
But what about youth leadership in the developing countries where the rest of the world's 1.3 billion youth reside? And are youth representatives really representing marginalized populations?
The youth delegates to the United Nations who are part of their national delegations are not always selected through a strict application process. In some countries, the selection processes are rigorous; in others, they are tokenistic or exclusive. Some countries and international organizations select youth representatives in accordance with governmental and organizational policies, resulting in tokenism and a lack of insight into youth perspectives. …