With a focus on mainstreaming youth in the post-2015 Development Agenda, the World Conference on Youth – held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in May 2014 – brought together more than 1,500 youth delegates and participants. Youth, marginalized individuals, country representatives and civil society organizations from around the globe gathered in Colombo to determine the priorities for youth in the coming era of global development. Discussions focused on priorities established by the World Programme of Action on Youth, and were divided into roundtable sessions on 7-key foundations and 6-key thematic areas. Of particular note were the discussions on Ending Systemic Inequalities: Empowering Marginalized Youth and Promoting Healthy Lives and Access to Health. Representatives from Youth LEAD were particularly active in these sessions, and advocated for the inclusion and active participation of young key populations in the post-2015 Development Agenda. These priorities, in addition to others, were carried from the round-table discussions to the International Youth Task Force (IYTF). The IYTF advocated for the inclusion of priorities and concerns specified by youth in the outcome document, the Colombo Declaration on Youth.

The International Youth Task Force is made up of leaders from youth-serving-youth-led organizations from around the globe, as well as young leaders from Sri Lanka. Youth LEAD’s Thaw Zin Aye, and founding member and Sri Lankan focal point Milinda Rajapaksha, along with other representatives, were instrumental in advising the Sri Lankan government on preparations for the conference, specifically concerning civil society participation and engagement with global youth movements. The IYTF was also responsible for translating youth priorities – discussed by youth delegates in the round-table sessions – into policy in the negotiation room.

Following negotiations, the Colombo Declaration on Youth reflects a comprehensive internationally agreed upon framework, which calls for an enhanced and active role for youth in policy formulation, implementation and evaluation. While participation among young people was high, the WCY was the first conference to generate a joint declaration that was issued by both policy makers and youth delegates. Throughout the thorough negotiation process, certain member states were in attendance and one seat was allocated to a youth representative to negotiate on behalf of all young people. The Colombo Declaration addresses a variety of issue areas important to Youth LEAD and reflects the special interests of marginalized groups in society. Contentious issues discussed included particular reference to LGBTIQ, SOGI and SRHR. While the Philippine’s, Brazil and Vietnam were among the member states strongly advocating for the inclusion of LGBTIQ and SRHR in the outcome document, push back from other member states led to a compromise. The Colombo Declaration now makes specific reference to “Gender Identities,” which although not as strong as LGTBIQ, creates a platform and entry point for marginalized groups who are not specifically mentioned in the Declaration. Specific reference is made to key populations in paragraph 30, which calls for the assurance of dignity, quality of life and equal recognition at all levels and all forms of work, and paragraph 36 makes specific reference to SRHR in accordance with International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Moreover, in paragraph 94, the Declaration calls for targets to be measured by indicators disaggregated by age, gender, location, linguistic base, wealth status, level of education, disability, ethnicity and key population status. Throughout the conference, there was an overwhelming push by delegates, observers and facilitators for the disaggregation of data, which has been reflected and emphasized in the outcome document. While it was difficult to summarize and condense the concerns and viewpoints of all 1500 delegates in attendance, the IYTF was successful in negotiating for those overarching concerns that were emphasized across all themes and foundations.

Moving forward, the Sri Lankan Mission to the UN in Geneva will table the Colombo Declaration to the UNGA in September 2014. As outlined by the IYTF and its partners in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, the outcome of the conference can only be as good as the follow-up mechanisms that have been established. Therefore, the IYTF will present the Colombo Declaration on Youth to the ECOSOC Youth Forum, which is taking place on June 2-3, 2014. An Open Working Group (OWG) will then be established to promote the Colombo Declaration, which will work closely with the government of Sri Lanka to make specific reference to the Declaration during its interventions at remaining meetings, and collaborate with the UN MGCY in an effort to take the document forward. In addition to promoting the Colombo Declaration on the International Youth Day, which is August 12, the IYTF is working to ensure that the UNSG includes the World Conference on Youth in its synthesis report that will be presented to the UNGA at the initiation of the post-2015 negotiations. This would enhance the legitimacy of the process by including the Declaration on Youth as an integral part of the post-2015 process.

With more than 11 representatives from the Youth LEAD team present, young key populations in the Asia Pacific region were well represented throughout the conference. Youth LEADers Jeffry Acaba and Dakshitha Wickremarathne both acted as facilitators in the Empowering Marginalized Youth, Including Most at Risk Young People round-table discussions and break-out sessions, where they actively encouraged youth delegates and observers to develop innovative strategies for promoting young people in the post-2015 development framework. Jeffry also spoke on a panel, Ending Systemic Inequalities, and organized, with Arushi Singh and Thaw Zin Aye a parallel event on the GSPOT – the Gender Sexuality Position Oriented Tool. This well-attended event generated an engaging discussion among participants surrounding gender and sexual identities, and the gender sensitivities of youth networks and organizations.  In addition to Youth LEAD’s active role in the round-table discussions, parallel events and negotiations, Youth LEAD co-hosted a side event with UNAIDS, emphasizing the importance of including young key populations affected by HIV/AIDS in the post-2015 development context. The panel discussion featured prominent speakers from the PACT, UNAIDS, Youth LEAD, as well as the United Nations Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi. Key take-away messages from this panel included: the need to recognize young key affected populations, through disaggregated data, in order to develop an effective HIV response for those often left behind by global initiatives; the need to address policy and legal barriers faced by young key populations in order to ensure continued and accelerated access to universal HIV prevention, treatment and care; the need to continue to recognize HIV/AIDS as a significant threat to public health and development, that if not adequately addressed, could reverse progress made  towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals; and finally, the need for action – the need for young people to engage with their governments to ensure that young key affected populations, and young people living with HIV remain a priority in national policy. In addition to emphasizing these key messages in the parallel event, all members of the Youth LEAD team stressed the importance of these issues in the roundtable discussions, as a means to promote the inclusion of young key populations through all possible channels.