Bolivia sends its first-ever Youth Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly: An interview with Maria Fernanda Ribera Garcia
Participation in decision-making is one of the central priorities of the United Nations’ agenda on youth and as such, it is a welcome development that more than 55 Youth Delegates (from more than 32 countries) are slated to attend the 71st session of the General Assembly as part of their official Member State Delegations. The Youth Delegate Programme is coordinated by the United Nations programme on Youth (DSPD/DESA) at the global level, however, the mandate of Youth Delegates is provided by their governments. Their roles typically include providing input to their delegation on issues related to youth, participating in their delegation’s general work through attending meetings and informal negotiations, and delivering statements on behalf of their State. This year’s increase in Youth Delegates represents one of the largest attendance turnouts to date, and includes countries that are sending Youth Delegates to the General Assembly for the first time, such as Bolivia. On 23 September 2016, Maria Fernanda Ribera Garcia, the 2016 Youth Delegate from Bolivia, told us what spearheaded her interest in this opportunity and in working on youth issues in her country.
Question: As a young person, what triggered your interest in working on youth issues?
Maria Fernanda Ribera Garcia: I have worked on youth issues since 2011, and without a doubt, my interest in this area arose because the participation of young people in issues that affected all of society was minimal in my city, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. It seemed like we young people were not really interested in public issues that affected us directly. It was then that a group of young people and I felt the need to do something to empower youth and ensure that their voices could be heard.
That is why we started a nongovernmental organization in the Santa Cruz Department called "Siembra Juventud", which had already been working in other Departments in Bolivia. The organization addresses issues that are important to us, like promoting a culture of peace, human rights, gender equality and the use of dialogue to achieve conflict resolution. We chose to work on these issues because we thought they were crucial for our cause and for the segment of the population that we worked with. The organization is neither political nor religious, and is self-sustaining since we raise the funds ourselves and thus are freely able to make our own decisions about their use.
The idea was to work with the academic sector and civil society, through education. We seek to have a different approach to many notions that young people seem to have, for instance, the idea that peace is simply the absence of war. We believe that, through education and youth empowerment we can contribute to achieving societies that are free from violence, more developed and fairer. That is the reason why a culture of prevention is so important.
Question: Why were you interested in becoming a Youth Delegate from Bolivia to the United Nations General Assembly?
Maria Fernanda Ribera Garcia: I believe that it is necessary for someone to represent the youth of my country. However, this role is a challenge because this is the first time that Bolivia has sent a Youth Delegate.
I want to work on the issues that young people in my surroundings need more support with, such as employment, education, and reducing teen pregnancy, among others. This is to be done through the empowerment of youth by their peers. Making progress for youth will only be possible when young people are more empowered and aware that they are a cornerstone for development, and on the other hand through the efforts, contributions and work of the government, the private sector, the media and civil society. I am up for the challenge since it is an honour to represent the Bolivian Youth and to be able to enhance partnerships in support of them.
There is currently a "demographic boom" in Bolivia, whereby the number of young people has increased, so I think it is especially vital that young people can get involved and stop being passive and rather become active instead. Given that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) impact young people, it is important that young people be engaged, in each of the countries where they will be implemented.
Question: What steps will you take to further develop and carry out your goals as a Youth Delegate?
Maria Fernanda Ribera Garcia: The idea is mainly to develop a plan with entities interested in the cause, where the priority would be on the implementation of SDGs that are most pertinent to youth and to Bolivia.
Now one of the underlying issues is the empowerment of women. This does not only mean gender equality, but that young women can engage in political issues and in decision-making, and that women know that they can have the same jobs and opportunities as men; it would also be important to expand young people’s thinking to this conceptualization of gender equality. This should be the vision of gender equality for all young people, not just females, since it is not an issue that only concerns women but all members of society.
The goal is to work with the institutions related to the topic, such as UN Women Bolivia, which works heavily on this subject, including in the dissemination of campaigns against femicide and violence against women. It would be necessary to also work with relevant ministries so that people understand that both women and men have the same rights. This shift can only be achieved through awareness, which can however be difficult because of prevalent sexism espoused by women as much as men. Women also have “machista” mindsets and that must be changed.
We want everyone to be agents of change, capable of spreading this ideal and to claim ownership of it.
Question: What advice would you give to those who want to work on the same issues?
Maria Fernanda Ribera Garcia: The principle advice that I would give them is to have the desire to get involved in the problems of their society, be aware of the needs of their country, family and society and realize that as young people they can do something. Once those needs are identified, they can look for different organizations, international bodies and associations and find spaces to work in the areas that they would want to commit.
Once these organizations and entities have been identified, it is necessary to be committed. This commitment is what allows someone to contribute from their experience, knowledge and goals, and that is what makes all the difference, and what helps achieve changes that are positive for everyone.
About the Author:
Maria Fernanda Ribera Garcia is the Youth Delegate from Bolivia. Maria is in her 5th year of her Law degree and is a founding member and national coordinator of the youth organization "Siembra Juventud" which aims to promote peace, development and the empowerment of youth. From 2011 to present, Maria has led various projects for Bolivian youth and also has extensive experience creating spaces of participation for youth and coordinating campaigns with youth, such as “My World”, “HeForShe”, “Action2015”, among others.
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