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I graduate from law school in 18 months but since I was 16 years old I have been a child rights and youth activist.

As the only young Namibian voice at the recently concluded Southern African Development Community – Civil Society Forum (SADC – CSF), I felt strongly that I needed to make the voice of Namibian youth heard and to describe the complex issues facing Namibia’s young people and women. I attended as one of six country representatives from the Southern African Alliance on Youth Employment (SAAYE).

‘To attend meetings such as these, senior members of organisations have priority and it is difficult to source funds to participate.’

My experience at the forum was rich. I was eager to learn from delegates from a variety of civil society organisations about the work they do across the region and to engage in conversations around youth employment. The forum explored topics ranging from the rule of law, statelessness, sexual reproductive health and people living with disabilities, all of which have a huge impact on young people. Sexual and gender based violence, youth unemployment, inequality and poverty are regional predicaments, all of which are prevalent in Namibia. To me, the main lesson is that SADC needs to collaborate more, to plan and strategise on how to collectively solve the issues we all face.

The CSF is a unique platform. There are not that many events where civil society converge in the region to talk about the diverse problems we face. It was a pleasure to engage with participants that have been in advocacy for longer than I have and to learn improved ways of setting an advocacy agenda and how to engage with key players. The Forum is also a great opportunity for young people to voice their concerns, hopes and challenges. Through the stories shared, I saw many similarities in the hopes and challenges faced by my fellow youth across Southern Africa.

‘I could say I am the personification of Namibia because I am a young, black, 21-year-old citizen, which according to the 2011 census is the average Namibian person.’

It is a sad truth that young people in the region rarely have the opportunity to be participants and contributors to the development agenda of the region. To attend meetings such as these, senior members of organisations have priority and it is difficult to source funds to participate. Youth however make up 60% of the total population in the SADC region. I pointed out that a specific commission dedicated to youth might be needed.

My country Namibia, is very young and has a unique profile. I could say I am the personification of Namibia because I am a young, black, 21-year-old citizen, which according to the 2011 census is the average Namibian person. The forum added to my insight on shared identity by showing me it exists regionally too. A shared identity should help us find the right path toward creating the SADC we all want.

I am grateful to the Commonwealth Foundation and the Economic Justice Network for the collaborative effort in making it possible for me to be heard.

Emma attended SADC – CSF as one of six country representatives from the Southern African Alliance for Youth Employment (SAAYE), a project supported by the Commonwealth Foundation. 

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