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Recognizing young people as equal partners in decision-making

13 April 2023

Christine Salloum is a social worker living in Lebanon © Christine Salloum

Youth activist Christine Salloum, 27, understands the power of young people driving social change, especially in Lebanon when the financial situation started to collapse at the end of 2019.

“The majority of people in Lebanon are unable to secure their social and economic rights amid a deepening economic crisis, with low-income households bearing the brunt,” she said. “The response of the authorities failed to address everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living. Therefore, youth came forward to help in this situation, a group of young enthusiastic specialists in the medical, dental, social, and humanitarian fields started an initiative of social and medical support to fill the gap.”

Salloum recently participated in a panel event on human rights mainstreaming (as a representative of a network of youth-led organizations under the umbrella of the International Coordination Meeting of Youth Organizations - ICMYO)  that focused on reflecting on the past five years of the UN Youth Strategy (Youth 2030) during the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

As a representative within the High-level Steering Committee of the United Nations Youth Strategy for International Coordination Meeting of Youth Organizations, Salloum has been participating in the consultations for the Strategy.

The goal of Youth 2030 is to facilitate increased impact and expanded global, regional, and country level action to address the needs, build the agency and advance the rights of young people and to ensure their engagement and participation in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Youth accountability is part of community engagement and the overall accountability that we need to achieve Youth 2030,” she said. “It is a way of working that recognizes and values community members as equal partners and the statement of working with and for youth. It makes sure their opinions are heard and used to design and guide the results and goals.”

Solloum explained that meaningful participation is where young people are not considered beneficiaries, but active participants and implementing partners.

As a social worker in Lebanon who works with refugee and stateless youth, Salloum knows first-hand how important this meaningful participation is for young people in her country. It became even clearer when she met a 21-year-old Syrian refugee. He was partially deaf and was kicked out of his family’s home. He came to the humanitarian center she worked in for assistance.

“He was always telling me that you inspire me to be better every day,” she said. “I was doing all my best to support him, to hear him, to make him feel that he had a voice, even if he had this medical condition.”

I'm not super woman, but I like to feel that I'm helping change someone's life for the better.

Christine Salloum, Social Worker in Lebanon

“That's our job to make people's lives better, to help them have access the basic needs, to have a better social life, to be supported in a different way,” she said. “So that's what makes me wake up every day and wants to go to work.” 

She also said that investing in and empowering youth should be valued and not overlooked.

UN Human Rights is doing just that with youth engagement being a key component of the Human Rights 75 Initiative, which will prioritize young people’s needs and recommendations throughout the year and in the future, and includes  the launching of a Youth Advisory Group..

“It is important to remember that those needs, and recommendations will be diverse — as diverse as young people themselves,” said UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk. “We need to engage with young people of every ethnicity and from every income and educational background, of every political opinion, sexual orientation or other distinction.”

Salloum agrees. She said that for young people, to be accountable and take responsibility towards society means that all young people should be part of the decision-making process, to work in partnership with decision-makers and boards and be fully engaged.

“Acknowledging the importance of youth needs assessment from our knowledge, experiences, and perspective of youth helps in addressing the issues of the highest priority,” she said.