Smart economics, participation in the labour force and an accelerated development trajectory is a very compelling narrative put forward to justify why governments, should invest in women, girls and young people. The same arguments have been adopted by those working towards international development and the global development discourse has taken the same turn.

I recognize the need to rationalize  the need to invest in fellow human beings, but what keeps eluding me is the fact that the unity that now provides the platform to discuss global development (United Nations and for us Africans the African Union) were founded on other principles too. One of these principles is human rights, the compelling narrative of smart economics has been fronted to the point we have lost the discussion where we invest in people because it is their human right which have been deemed inalienable and indivisible.

Women and girls and young people pay taxes, so when I put it that it is their right for the government to invest in them, their right stems from their contribution to their government’s revenue. That notwithstanding we cannot purport to prioritize smart economics as the only value for money reason for investing in people’s lives and their well being. We  understand that the power dynamics as it is now edges mostly women and young people from decision making tables, this has far reaching implications.

Implications- the public health and economic burden

The implications are such that those populations not on the decision making table have to constantly find a reason and rational arguments that would grant them consideration. This then reduces serious matters into sales pitches that if not successful will not be funded. Other instrumental platforms are those that seek to prioritize women’s health as long as it poses an overwhelming public health concern or presents a considerable economic burden, we have seen this discussion take root when addressing unsafe abortion and its contribution to maternal deaths. In countries like Kenya, 7 women are lost daily to unsafe abortion and this has been painted in different kinds of light, for some it’s a public health nuisance, for some it is undue pressure placed on poor families who loose breadwinners, for some it’s lost contribution to labour force especially given that 60% of those who die are below 25 years and further is the fact that 40% among the 60% are adolescent girls. Where do human rights get discussed in all these?

I was privileged to have been a Kenyan Government delegate in the recently concluded 48th session of the United Nations Commission on Population and Development held in New York. The negotiator on behalf of the African group was from Nigeria one of the countries with high maternal deaths, his first comment was ‘Chair, the text has been turned into a human rights documents without any development inclination’. I must also add that with this comment, he was taking issue with the text on that basis. This to me represents the exact mindset with which our leaders approach development discussions

The demographic dividend discussion-youth bulge

The world has galvanized around addressing the demographic trends that now presents an overwhelming number of young people for nations to deal with. This has raised a pertinent  discourse that has taken root in discussing the demographic dividend, another very instrumental discussion in my opinion. Most of the countries and I must speak with a specific bias towards Africa; seem to have gotten a memo around the demographic dividend. Having had access to many policy spaces, I must say the discussion has been put forward in a very reactive way especially given that it has not interrogated the place of human rights as a prerogative for investing in young people. The discussion happening now should span out of the comfortable confines of young people’s access to decent work and employment but further access to factors of production and issues surrounding that access.

For young women and young people living with disability, cohorts that are disproportionately affected by unemployment among others such as young people in rural populations they have difficulty accessing factors of production due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.Resources such as land attract various controversies and centered around age and gender. With the changing world, factors of production take different forms and we now have capital and technology to speak about. We must anchor the discussions to place young people on their rightful place as equal shareholders equipping them with skills and protecting their inheritance and shares of the various resources as rightful and honourable citizens.

We must finally discuss the ‘youth bulge’ soberly;  when we have 70% young people in Africa, it is an overwhelming number that poses all manner of possibilities. But most governments seem to be buying the demographic dividend discussion simply from trepidation of the nuisance the numbers of young people might cause. If we invest in their health including sexual and reproductive health and rights, employment and enhance entrepreneurship opportunities through enhanced access to factors of production we will not need to fear. Finally governments should invest at all times whether the youth are 10% or 80% because young people, women, girls and all other citizens have a right to be served by their governments needless of their tyranny of numbers as we say in Kenya

Catherine is a Mandela Fellow 2016, Women Deliver Young Leader and member of Youth RISE International working group. Catherine is a passionate young African feminist activist with over 7 years of experience in advancing gender equality, youth development and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of sustainable development through movement building, digital and social media, policy advocacy and capacity building for young women and adolescents girls. Catherine is currently Deputy Director at Dandelion Kenya, and sits on the SDGs Kenya Forum coordination committee. Catherine has engaged with various global and regional policy processes such as ICPD Beyond 2014 review, Beijing +20 and the post 2015 development agenda. She co-authored the article ‘Leave No One Behind; Will African Women be left behind in the post 2015 development agenda ,an article published on the East African Business Monthly in February 2015. Catherine launched the #SRHRDialogues, an online advocacy and awareness raising platform on SRHR and #YAFDialogues, an online platform anticipated to be a permanent mobilizing platforms borne out of an African feminist dialogue 2015 in Accra. Follow her on Twitter: @catherinenyamb1

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