UN Day: General Assembly seen through a young person’s eyes

The two Belgian United Nations Youth Delegates who went to the 77th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York have returned.

Maïté Coppens and Mathilde Chignesse joined the Belgian delegation, representing the Dutch and French-speaking parts of their country. It was the first time young people were able to participate in the official Belgian delegation, bringing the voice of Belgian youth to several events during the High-Level Week and the Third Committee.

On the occasion of UN Day, UNRIC spoke to one of the two delegates, Maïté Coppens, who is responsible for youth policy through her role as a youth delegate. Here she recounts her experiences of this giant UN diplomatic meeting.

What were your main expectations at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and were they met?

Before I went to New York, I hoped I could make my voice, and all the voices I represent in Flanders (Belgium), heard at the Permanent Mission of Belgium to the UN and at the UNGA.

I also wanted to meet other UN Youth Delegates to discuss topics of interest and learn how they execute their mandate. I met a lot of them from all over the world: Germany, Austria, Australia, Mexico, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Malta, the Netherlands, Thailand, Ukraine… It was amazing to learn about their mandates.

One thing we all agreed upon is that there is still work to be done to achieve better youth participation at the UNGA. Big steps have already been taken, for example, some UN Youth Delegates can be present in person at the UN Headquarters, but we must keep fighting for wider youth representation.

What suggestions do you have for the inclusion of young people in political decision-making?

Give young people an equal seat at the table and the chance to give a speech during the UNGA; they are the experts in their field (youth) and are sincerely committed to improving everyone’s future. It should be an interactive conversation and not just a one-sided dialogue. Feedback is also important for young people to understand why a decision was taken or not.

Mathilde and I co-organised, with four other countries, a side event on how we can involve as many young people as possible during the political decision-making process and how we can have a greater impact on policymakers.

UN Youth Delegates Mathilde Chignesse (R) and Maïté Coppens (L) with the Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo
UN Youth Delegates Mathilde Chignesse (R) and Maïté Coppens (L) with the Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo

Can you describe the experience of attending the UNGA?

The UN Headquarters leaves a great impression on every visitor: diplomats, policymakers and UN Youth Delegates. The UNGA, especially during the high-level week, is very formal with a high level of security and everyone is excited to participate.

A lot of great people inspired me. It was interesting to hear the statements of different countries on the topics of the Third Committee (which deals with Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Issues) and at various side events and meetings organised by other UN Youth Delegates.

Is there any anecdote you wish to share?

During the Third Committee, Mathilde and I gave a speech where we took the floor to represent Belgium and highlight some crucial topics to focus on. The first topic was inequality, including equal education for everyone and equal gender rights, and the second topic was on mental health. Each country had five minutes to deliver their speech. The microphone is turned off after exactly five minutes. Mathilde and I repeatedly practised our speech. I was the last one to speak and had to watch the clock to ensure it fitted within the allotted time.  It was funny when I ended our speech on the very last second. It was a small race against the clock, but so great that Mathilde and I managed to deliver this speech together.

What was a highlight for you?

The meeting in the General Assembly Hall during the Transforming Education Summit. The room was filled with people from all over the world, and we were all trying to change the education system. Different youngsters talked about their life and why the education system must change. Knowing that all the countries in this room can work together to make a better future for all young people was amazing.

My experience at the UNGA was really fascinating and I learned a lot during my three weeks of stay. It was the best way to understand how the UN works from the inside and how we can make a difference at the UN level in the future.


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