The UAE is a young country. Our population is young, our culture celebrates and empowers young people, and in April we launched our “The Year 50” campaign, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of our nation.
The challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide have only added to the risks and challenges faced by young people, especially in vulnerable settings. We understand that young people will have to bear the legacy of our actions today – the good and the bad. So now more than ever, it is clear that the world cannot afford to exclude them from the table. If young people are able to contribute as active agents, together we can build a better world for them and for generations to come. But addressing universal challenges requires a collaborative approach, irrespective of the age of the change-maker. It is vital that the international community recalibrates its efforts to avoid exacerbating existing intergenerational inequalities. And the UAE is ready to be a partner in this endeavor.
April marked the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum, a dynamic space for candid dialogue among Member States and young leaders from around the world to generate solutions to global challenges affecting youth and scaling up efforts for youth engagement. Set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions in the 2021 Forum focused on the sustainable and resilient recovery from the pandemic and the inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Addressing more than 10,000 participants virtually, Her Excellency Shamma Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth, invited the international community to share perspectives on the role of youth in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a post-COVID-19 world and maintaining the ongoing dialogue between youth and decision-makers at the UN.
“We are here today because we believe the world’s best sequel is one where youth are the authors and co-authors of the future we will inherit.”Her Excellency Shamma Al Mazrui
Along these same lines, the UAE government views young people as its greatest assets and the foundation of the country’s future. And rightly so, as young people (defined ages 15 to 35) make up more than 40% of the Emirati population. On the occasion of the UAE’s 49th National Day in December 2020, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, Emir of Abu Dhabi, and the Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, said that while the UAE prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2021, its youth should be ready to welcome the next 50 years with a future vision “that will prepare our country for more development across all sectors, so that by year 2071, the UAE will become the first in the world in global indicators for well-being, happiness and quality of life.”
Our nation is a supportive place to grow, learn, and develop future-proof solutions that will unlock a more prosperous and inclusive world for all. In order to do this, the UAE believes it is important to harness the skills, energy, and commitment of our young people. This means empowering them to speak their minds, embracing a willingness to listen, securing their full and meaningful participation in decision-making processes, and implementing their recommendations across all levels of government.
We are reaping the benefits of this and others are taking notice. For the ninth year in a row, young people surveyed in the 2020 Arab Youth Survey named the UAE the top place to live and the country they would most like their own to emulate. Respondents cited the UAE’s safety and the broad range of employment opportunities as their reasons.
Since the founding of our nation, we have steadily invested in the education infrastructure which has helped nurture young minds and create a knowledge economy. In 1975, the rate of adult literacy was 54% among men and 31% among women. Today, the rate for both genders is close to 95%. The UAE is home to a wide range of universities, including international institutions. In addition to supporting the education needs of young people in the UAE, this also offers the many young people in the region the opportunity to pursue quality higher education closer to home. Most importantly, persons with disabilities – or people of determination as they are known in the UAE – have access to vocational and rehabilitation centers, in addition to general academic institutions, to pursue education.
While many see the “youth bulge” in the Middle East as a cause for concern, in the UAE we are focused on identifying potential opportunities. We appointed one of the youngest ministers in the world, H. E. Shamma Al Mazrui, as the Minister of State for Youth. Placing a young, dynamic woman at the helm of such an important government portfolio reflects the UAE’s confidence in the next generation’s ability to lead effectively.
In 2018, we also established the Federal Youth Authority (FYA). The FYA is a startup initiative which connects every young person to every branch of UAE government. Its mission is to invest in young Emiratis by nurturing their talents, developing the environment that surrounds and shapes them, and maximizing their participation.
The FYA supervises the work of youth councils, youth centers, and youth-oriented initiatives and programs throughout the country. It also tracks the progress achieved towards the goals of the UAE’s National Youth Agenda. During the COVID-19 pandemic it was the FYA that ensured Emirati youth remained engaged and encouraged, even while quarantined at home. It produced a guide to maximizing youth participation at home and organized vocational courses for remote students.
The UAE is placing youth in the driver’s seat by embracing innovative programs like the Youth Engagement Policy, which directs the government to engage youth by listening to them, capturing data and metrics, and deploying purposeful strategies to enhance their wellbeing. The UAE cabinet also made it mandatory for federal government entities to include Emiratis under 30 on the board of directors for their respective entities.
In July 2020, the UAE launched a probe to Mars named Al-Amal – Arabic for “hope” – with a message of optimism for the vast young population at home, as well as the broader region. The UAE’s space sector is young and small, but it is one that is championed by its young people and led by the young and dynamic Minister of State for Advanced Technology, Her Excellency Sarah Al Amiri.
Empowering youth around the world
Every year, the UAE appoints two young Emiratis as youth delegates to the UN through the UAE UN Youth Delegates Programme. Launched in 2016, this programme offers youth delegates an opportunity to participate in meetings and consultations of the UN General Assembly, as well as to hone negotiating and networking skills. Past youth delegates have shared how they were able to transfer these skills into their daily and professional lives after the completion of their assignment.
The UAE is not just embracing the philosophy of placing young people in the driver’s seat at home. In the Arab region, young people are the fastest growing segment of the population and so we recognize that if we are to achieve more stability and prosperity, we must also invest in its youth, providing them with the opportunities to learn and grow, so that they too can be active contributors to their communities.
The UAE established the Arab Youth Center during the World Government Summit in 2017 to contribute to the creation of a pioneering youth empowerment model in the Arab region. It is a regional youth center based in the UAE that helps to develop youth capabilities and supports innovation and creativity in the Arab world. It is a unique platform to empower Arab youth by cooperating with Arab governments and developing various initiatives to nurture the next generation of Arab leaders capable of building a better future.
Youth and the UN Security Council
We are steadfast in our commitment to increasing the participation of young people in the work of the UN Security Council because we recognize that young people are critical to the longevity and sustainability of peace. In a statement for the annual open debate on Youth, Peace and Security in April 2020, we urged the United Nations to consider ways to increase meaningful participation of youth in peacebuilding efforts.
Young people across the globe have made clear that peace and security is more than just the absence of violence. They have stressed the importance of ending violence and mitigating its symptoms, as well as addressing underlying causes like corruption, inequality, and social injustice.
As we begin to see signs of relief from this pandemic slowly appear, we are reminded about the promise of the future and how vital it is to break the cycle of violence and discrimination that prevents young people from achieving their full potential. This requires action to invest in and uplift youth around the world to help them create a more prosperous world for all.
Building resiliency for all is a key pillar of the UAE’s candidacy for the Security Council in 2022-2023. When elected, the UAE will continue to champion young people and mainstream them as active agents in multilateral efforts – especially in the peace and security nexus, because including and empowering young people across all sectors is critical to the achievement of a sustainable peace.