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Student blog: Representing the state at the UN Youth National Conference

Author: Jemima of Year 12

30 Aug 2016

We’ve all been there, scrolling through Facebook just weeks before exams, hoping something interesting will appear to ease the guilt of our procrastination. Luckily for me that was it – an ad for UN Youth Australia’s NSW State Conference on Gender Perspectives in Conflict. For the first time, I could apply memorising Mr Gooley’s Legal Studies content into my everyday life!

Two weeks later I was at the conference with Year 12 comrades Katie and Mikaela meeting the 200 or so delegates. We took part in workshops, discussion panels, debates and interactive problem-solving challenges on gender over the first three days. Then, bound for the Law Faculty of Sydney University, we waved friendly farewells to our new companions who would soon become heated competition.

The UN Youth debate structure replicates the UN model with nations proposing the resolution, seconders and points of information. The chair orders Caucus Time where nations pass notes via facilitators, discuss opinions face to face, or persuade cosignatories for amendments. Delegates were split into committees and I was in the Disarmament and Security committee, debating the question of land mines and women in conflict.

The General Assembly was called to debate the final resolution on the question of gender rights. After four hours, 25 amendments and 300 signatures later, the resolution passed with a mere three votes in favour and one abstention (from the girl who had fallen asleep mid debate). 

Young debaters inspire hope for the future

At debate’s conclusion, I was notified I had been one of eight students selected from 200 delegates to represent NSW at the UN Youth National Conference in Brisbane. In the week’s leading up to the conference, I was involved in weekly delegation meetings where we discussed plans and strategies and tested our problem-solving and teamwork skills in ‘escape room’ activities. 

On Sunday 3 July, 2016 about 92 delegates from Australia, New Zealand and the Asia Pacific settled in Brisbane to debate topical issues including the Refugee Crisis and the Syrian War. Our initial meetings with Victorian delegates began week-long political debates with young liberal and labour supporters contesting statistics and facts. We had sessions on Journalism, the Media and Youth Representation in Parliament and competed in International Process Simulation (simulated international scenarios). 

At the end of the week, the debates began. I witnessed some of the best young debaters in Australia, and their passion inspired great hope for the future. The LGBTI rights panel brought most of us to tears. 

The day concluded with the final General Assembly. Never have I heard such an admirably intelligent group of young people debate with such conviction on topics such as rape, war crimes and genocide. The odd puns and pick up lines sent through note-passing helped ease the seriousness of the day.

To use the word ‘privileged’ to describe what it felt like to meet the world’s future leaders is an understatement. I never doubted the power of friendship and collective voice. What if I never came across that Facebook post, or wasn’t bothered because it seemed ‘uncool’? It is scary to think I would have missed out on the most empowering experience, or the excitement of friends from the UN flying down from Queensland to see me for my 18th birthday. 

Taking opportunities as a sign of gratitude

To Wenona girls, I say don’t take this School, or these opportunities for granted. What might seem an eye-roll bother now will be what you miss in the future. I’m fortunate to spend my final two weeks of school with 111 incredible women in my grade. I’m grateful for these girls.

Nothing is more important than thanking those who inspire you and appreciating those who are there. We are told it’s important to take opportunities as a sign of gratitude. This is no doubt true, but I’ve learned that you need to take opportunities to show belief within yourself, to acknowledge your own intellect and ability to achieve, no matter how daunting. 

Be the leader your younger self looked up to, the one who is not ashamed of admitting their most memorable holiday was spent debating. In no mind did I ever believe I would have been selected for something like this. And if I can, so can you!