Born in Copenhagen, Denmark but educated in Sweden, 23 years old, Katja Holböll is one of Sweden’s Youth Representatives to the United Nations. Her engagement within the Swedish Civil Society has begun long before her studies on Human Rights and Social Science at Lund University and has not stopped since. Among her many extra-curricular activities, she mentions an internship at the Swedish Embassy in Tirana which in her words did, among others, provide an opportunity to learn more about inter-sectorial policies that take a long-term view on the issue of youth development and empowerment, and is one of the best experiences that shaped her into becoming the person that she is today. Katja is energetic by nature and not only because she loves to indulge in black coffee; outgoing as a Libra; enjoys a long walk while listening to good podcasts and reading books, her favorite being “Origins of Totalitarianism” by Hannah Arendt. She is currently enrolled at Uppsala University pursuing a master’s degree in Peace and Conflict. We (virtually) sat down with Katja to talk about her experience as Sweden’s UNYD.
[UNA]: Tell us a bit about your experience as a Youth Representative of Sweden to the UN. What do you consider are the highlights of your mandate?
[KH]: “My experience as a Youth Representative has mainly been positive. It has been a rewarding experience getting to meet and consult with Swedish youth organizations, and then almost function as a megaphone of their perspectives, vocalizing their thoughts and ideas on our times biggest issues within the UN or in forums that address issues on a UN level. I feel honored having been given the mandate to represent over 700 000 thousand youth active in over 80 youth organizations in Sweden, and it is a responsibility which I have taken on with just as much joy as severity. At times, it has been challenging to experience how people in power or grown-ups, in general, have looked down and excluded a youth perspective, or only invited youth as a symbolic gesture. Young women and men and their contributions to society should stand at the very core, and young people must be seen as meaningful partners. Youth are not only the future but also the present. Highlights of my mandate must be having met so many other inspiring young people, not only from Sweden but also from other parts of the world. It has given me the energy and driving force to continue working with youth policy development as a means of improving democratic participation, empowerment and competence development of young people and youth organizations.“.
[UNA]: How does the UNYD program benefit the youth of a country?
[KH]: “The creation of a youth representative position has the benefit of empowering an often-marginalized sector of society as well as leading to more appropriate and effective solutions to problems facing young people. The existence of such positions is a tangible and very visible demonstration by governments of their commitment to young people. Promoting youth representation and participation in the United Nations General Assembly can inspire young people to take a greater interest in international issues and become more involved in decision-making processes.
The right to participation is further on one of the defining articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is not just a right, but also one of the four guiding principles of the Convention. However, even though children’s rights advocates and youth organizations have been fighting for the right to participation for many years, turning it into a reality remains challenging. It is easy to say that children and young people have the right to participate, but harder to make it happen. Participation in society and influencing one’s own life is not only a right for boys and girls, young women and men, but it also leads to better decision-making, more engaged citizens and a more inclusive society. Participation by children and young people is a complex and multifaceted issue. But primarily, it is a matter of democracy. Participation is not just about children and young people making their own decisions – it is much more than that. The child or young person must have the information they need to take part in and understand the process, and they must be given the time and opportunity to form and express an opinion. There must be a real possibility of actually influencing the decision or process, and the child or young person must be given feedback on the process. I believe that the UNYD program benefits the youth in Sweden by raising this issue, but also by being one example of how active engagement of youth provides decision-makers with more information and greater insight into children’s and young people’s lives.“.
[UNA]: What should a youth delegate be? What should he/she not be?
[KH]: “I believe that a youth delegate needs to have the ambition to mobilize and impact social policy dialogue within their communities as well as at the global level. The youth delegates provide input to their delegation on issues related to youth and participate in the delegations’ general work through attending a variety of meetings and informal negotiations, as well as providing assistance in covering general debates and drafting reports. Due to the work assignments, it is beneficial if a delegate is experienced in current national youth policies, linked to youth organizations, structures or networks in their home country and are knowledgeable on some of the key issues confronting their generation. One advantage of being a delegate is that it allows you to be creative and offers endless possibilities in how to organize the mandate, so one can commit by different means. This also means that there is never one delegate who is the other one alike. You should mainly want to become a youth delegate because you want to contribute to the overarching goal of youth empowerment and involvement of young people in the decision-making process – not because of any potential personal benefits (that is more secondary than primary).”.
[UNA]: Can you share an amusing story with us, and our followers related to your mandate?
[KH]: “Last year, I traveled to New York to participate in the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. During my first day at the UN Headquarter, I was alone without any assistance from my mission, but I knew that I was supposed to participate in the opening of the 3rd committee. As I had never been in neither NY or at the UN headquarter, I woke up early and prepared myself for a long but interesting day. As I made it from my hostel at 51st St to UN headquarters at 46th St & 1st Ave I was proud of myself – having made one step in the right direction. Having passed security and made it inside, I eventually found my way to the committee and made myself comfortable at the Swedish chair. It eventually dawned on me that I (unfortunately), had taken a seat in the 2nd committee, not the 3rd committee. So, in the middle of the opening speech made by Madam Chairperson, I had to crawl out of the room and quickly find my way to the 3rd committee. Fortunately, these two rooms where right next to each other, so I quickly fixed my mistake. In hindsight, it is a funny memory, but I did not laugh right there and then.”.
[UNA]: What advice would you give to young people looking to apply to this program?
[KH]: “You are good enough – never doubt yourself. If your heart is at the right place – then that is more important than having a lot of experience. So, if you want to apply – send in your application!“.