From empowering youth towards political participation
Karen Abarca is proud to be serving as an example for youngsters in El Oro Province, located in the south-west of Ecuador. At the age of 20, mother of an 8 month old toddler and a third year student of economy, she actively participates in provincial youth forums to have her voice heard and be able to weigh on public policies that affect issues important to her.
Once a month, Karen gathers with her peers - as she calls them - in a general assembly, to discuss youth-related topics. "Of course you should involve teenagers and youth when designing public policies that affect them. Only from our perspective can we learn to organize ourselves, articulate our opinions and influence decision-makers," she tells passionately.
Through the Programme for the Articulation of Territorial Networks (ART), UNDP has assisted youngsters in the Province of El Oro in acquiring critical awareness with respect to topics such as sexual and reproductive health, alcohol and drug addiction, the enforcement of their rights, youth participation, entrepreneurship and leadership. From 7 municipalities, 540 youngsters aged 15 to 29 have participated in workshops to increase their knowledge and strengthen their skills, in the framework of the project "Inter-institutional Articulation for the Integral Development of Teenagers and Youth".
The youngsters themselves have identified the thematic areas to be dealt with in this project, actively supported by the Provincial Government of El Oro and the Municipalities of Balsas, Chilla, Huaquillas, Machala, Marcabelí, Pasaje and Santa Rosa. Several other actors teamed up for this project, such as civil society organizations (the Colibrí Youth Movement and Save the Children), academia (the University of Machala) and 5 public institutions (among which the Ministries of Public Health, Education and Social and Economic Inclusion).
Oscar Sánchez, aged 25 and currently Youth Officer at the Provincial Government of El Oro, considers the possibility to work jointly with the different municipalities as one of the project's most relevant outcomes: "The participation of the seven municipalities complemented all the work we put in this project, thereby avoiding the duplication of efforts and generating a greater influence of youth at the local governments."
This is but one concrete example of how youngsters have grown into social actors who make use of their rights. In this respect, the Ecuadorian Constitution stipulates that "the State shall safeguard the rights of youth and promote the effective enforcement of their rights through policies and programs, institutions and resources, as to assure and maintain in a permanent manner their participation and inclusion in all areas, in particular within the realm of public power."
Thanks to the joint efforts of all institutions and organizations involved, the youngsters of El Oro Province have been set on track towards the fulfillment of their rights and their active participation in local governance mechanisms. Moreover, municipal decrees earmark resources from local budgets so they can be dedicated to the priorities of teenagers and youth. As a result, youngsters such as Karen can continue to participate in capacity strengthening workshops and inspire their peers to join them in shaping their own future.