Engaging youth in the discourse on just and inclusive cities

The context

Less than a year ago, in 2016, 193 member countries signed the New Urban Agenda. The shared vision of this globally binding agreement stated “We share a vision of cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements to foster prosperity and quality of life for all. We note the efforts of some national and local governments to enshrine this vision, referred to as “right to the city”, in their legislation, political declarations and charters”. The same countries agreed upon the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, premised on the principle to “leave no one behind”.

The onus of realising these agreements ultimately lies with governments at various levels. However, making cities and human settlements safe and sustainable must translate to multiple efforts by multiple actors. It is necessary to invest in addressing the issue of inequality with education, awareness and platforms for engagement.

In January 2017, YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action) conducted a 10 day course for 19 youth from marginalised settlements in Mumbai, India. The course ‘Youth and Inclusive Cities’ brought together youth who have engaged with issues in their communities to bring about change at the local level. This course had aspects of understanding the urban, urban movements, ways of engaging and participating in urban governance, while also providing them with skills to work more effectively on such issues. It fostered in them the need to draw from the rich experience of social movements, and come together as young people in the city to bring change. It is through education on concepts and examples of movements towards realising sustainability, inclusivity and rights that we engage youth on global agendas.

The event

‘Making Mumbai’ was the beginning of a journey where these 19 youth discussed pressing issues with other youth keen to make the city more inclusive. Over 400 youth from across the city gathered to be part of this event held on 26 March 2017 at Dharavi in Mumbai. These included youth living on streets, in slums, urban villages and resettlement colonies.

At the event youth groups made presentations on the following themes – conflicts over land; issues of legality and tenure of slums; right to water, sanitation, housing; and basic services within resettlement and rehabilitation settlements among others. There was also a panel discussion where four youth leaders spoke on their ideas and vision for an inclusive city. The discussion was on contemporary problems and solutions, as well as the way forward to bring change in cities through changing attitude of the youth. The discussion brought out that creating inclusive cities is complex. It involves engaging in multiple layers – on issues of housing, basic services, infrastructure, along with changing attitudes on gender, caste and religion.

The event also had city games, exhibitions by social movements and campaigns in the city, stalls and a cultural programme that included songs for change, dance performances on social issues, and poetry recitation. These provided cultural expression to the themes that were discussed.

Looking ahead

‘Making Mumbai’, a campaign that is an initiative of the youth to create an inclusive Mumbai was kick started by the youth. This campaign will be taken forward by the youth through the course of the year while building solidarity and greater awareness on collective ideas of inclusivity. It is after all, youth who will be witness and participants to urbanisation over the next 20 years.

Article by Marina Joseph, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA)

YUVA India uses an integrated community development model towards empowerment; through interventions with different population groups on issues of habitat, livelihood, environment and governance. The work with communities contributes to research that enhances capacity building and directs discussion to influence advocacy towards policy-making.


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