Commonwealth young leaders launch new health and human rights networks

28 June 2016

Young leaders from across the Commonwealth have come together to establish two new Commonwealth Youth Networks, one focused on Health, and the other on Human Rights and Democracy.

Young leaders from across the Commonwealth have come together to establish two new Commonwealth Youth Networks, one focused on Health, and the other on Human Rights and Democracy, through which they will play a strong and active role in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Commonwealth Youth Health Network (CYHN) and the Commonwealth Human Rights and Democracy Network (CYHRDN) were officially launched last week, at the end of a three-day visioning workshop that gathered around 50 young activists and practitioners from 27 countries across all Commonwealth regions – Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Americas, the Pacific, and Europe.

The networks will provide platforms for young people to advocate and engage on global issues related to health, human rights and democracy, through individual and collective action, as well as through partnerships with other youth structures and key institutions at national and international levels.

During the meeting, delegates identified strategies to bridge the gap between policy-makers and young people, and developed action plans for each network. They were also treated to presentations on the work of the Commonwealth Secretariat in each thematic area, and received training in strategic planning, communications and fundraising.

In her keynote speech to open the event, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland encouraged the youth leaders to utilise their talents to the fullest.

The Secretary-General said: “Young people now have more information, aspirations and talent than at any other time in history. This is your world, because the decisions you make will affect us all in years to come. The decisions you take or do not take will fundamentally shape our future.”

The World Health Organization estimates that globally, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for 38 million deaths annually. Lifestyle choices in young people are significant factors in the development of NCDs in later life. Young people are also most affected by transgenerational health issues such as the effects of climate change on health.

In addition, young people are often the most vulnerable and disempowered in response to violations of human rights and civil liberties.

Katherine Ellis, Director of Youth Affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat, highlighted the role of young people as partners and leaders in addressing development issues. “Youth networks ensure that we compound the voice and work of young people, enabling them to contribute to social action,” said Ms Ellis.

“We must move beyond recognising that young people are valuable human resources and embrace them as catalysts for change.”

In recognition of the contribution of young people to the achievement of the SDGs, the establishment of the Commonwealth Youth Health Network was endorsed in May 2016 at the Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting in Geneva.

Lucy Fagan, a young Policy Advisor at the Royal College of Nursing, expressed her hopes at the launch of both networks, saying: “It’s one of the first groups I’ve come across that really looks at involving young people from all sorts of sectors, backgrounds, passion and interest to make some change. It’s about young people leading the way on health. There is the potential to have impact not just on Commonwealth but globally, and not just at a high-level policy space but also at the grassroots level.”

Noorani Mulaparthi, a youth human rights activist from Sri Lanka, said: “These experiences have given us all a great blend of tools that we can take back to our communities and regions. The networks will go from strength to strength, and our friendships formed here will last forever.”

The two new networks join existing established youth alliances in the Commonwealth community:

Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC)
Commonwealth Students Association (CSA)
Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN)
Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network (CYCN)
Commonwealth Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs (CAYE)
Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development & Peace (SDP) Working Group (CYSDP)
Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network (CYGEN)