The mandate of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is to strengthen the role of youth in development through volunteerism, and emphasises the basic belief that youth are agents of change.
UNV Bangladesh aims to work not just for youth, but with youth. Together with three national youth organisations, UNV organised youth consultations on the post-2015 agenda during August and September 2013. The consultations in Jessore and Chittagong enabled young people to share their vision of the future and actively contribute to the global post-2015 debate.
Over 60 young people representing 16 youth organisations or clubs participated, and shared their thoughts in the first two consultations. One of the main areas of discussion was on the issue of “inequality.”
In the discussion on inequality it became clear that the differences in access to information, education, health, clean water and basic rights divide Bangladeshi society and solidify existing inequalities.
There is a need to address the root causes of inequality, which are often systemic, institutionalised and interconnected with other development issues. It became apparent how important the issue of inequality is for Bangladeshi youth considering the depth of the discussion that took place.
While many different forms of discrimination and inequalities were addressed, there were two areas that were most interesting: climate change and gender.
Youths in Jessore coined the term “climate discrimination,” describing the unequal effects of global warming in different parts of the world, where countries like Bangladesh face more negative effects than the biggest “contributors” to climate change.
The increased threat of natural disasters due to climate change encouraged the participants to address the issues not only on a local level, but also to discuss global implications and the actions needed to alleviate the pressures of climate change and the unequal distribution of its effects.
Climate discrimination adds another form of discrimination to existing social inequalities between religions, ethnic groups, location and gender. It is not enough to plant trees in Bangladesh to enhance climate resilience. Young participants demanded political commitment from their government as well as global leaders.
In Chittagong, the youth participants emphasised the need to include gender discrimination in the post-2015 agenda. While gender discrimination mostly affects women, they believed it was also important to take into consideration the transgender and homosexual community, and by not doing so it remains as one of the biggest obstacles for creating a fair and just society in Bangladesh.
The youths examined how at the core of gender inequality were religious misinterpretations and how patriarchal and societal structures benefit those who are already powerful. When combined with poverty and lack of education, established gender division and roles were upheld rather than dismantled.
One young woman emphasised that it is difficult for young women to become active change-makers in society when there are multiple consequences of gender discrimination, such as violence against women, sexual exploitation and established power structures.
When talking about gender equality in the post-2015 context, the youths believed there was a need to integrate not only quantitative indicators, such as indexing violence against women, but also qualitative societal changes that would require a transformative approach to attitudinal and behavioural change.
Instead of only looking at statistical information, the participants’ vision of the post-2015 agenda clearly includes the dream of creating an equal world for all. Inequality as a result of climate change and gender discrimination are only two priorities of many that Bangladeshi youth have identified as pressing concerns for their generation.
The next development agenda should rise to the challenge of addressing these issues and continue the journey to fulfil the promise of the Millennium Declaration signed 13 years ago.