Young people at the forefront of advocacy for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Reproductive Justice.
By: Carles Pericas Escalé
Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR)
Mireia Amat, L’Associació de Drets Sexuals i Reproductius
Bruna Martinez, Amsterdam Youth Force
Ruben Pages, UNAIDS
“Young people have the fundamental right to participate in every process that affects or can affect their lives.”
While the principle above is something that decision makers seem to be more aware of than a couple of decades ago, there is still a long way to go until young people in all their diversity are taken into account when shaping public policies and programmes. Global decision-making spaces seem to be packed with tokenistic practices that far from promoting meaningful youth participation, turn young people into checkboxes.
Moreover, whenever there is an opportunity in place, young people still have to fight structural barriers that unfortunately perpetuate oppression on the basis of gender, place of birth, ethnicity, skin color and many other traits that shape individual and collective identities. All these limitations are also replicated at a national and local level, where most of the time youth still struggle to contribute to the political agenda and only those pertaining to more privileged groups get access to relevant spaces.
During this year’s World Health Assembly in Geneva, the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights organised for the first time a side event that addressed these barriers and put at the centre of the discussion the need to challenge privilege and hierarchy in global processes, particularly when it comes to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Plenty of youth-led organisations are at the forefront of the SRHR movement, yet we still struggle to get a seat at the table and be considered essential stakeholders. When Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights are not upheld and respected, young people tend to suffer a big portion of the consequences (in particular those who are placed in situations of vulnerability).
To contribute to the discussion, we counted with the participation of three panelists: Bruna Martinez (Amsterdam Youth Force), Mireia Amat (Associació de Drets Sexuals i Reproductius) and Ruben Pages (UNAIDS) who, through their contributions, uprooted the main causes of inequality and provided tips and suggestions on how we can direct our efforts while keeping a holistic and intersectional approach. Charlotte O’Leary, IFMSA’s Liaison Officer to the World Health Organization was in charge of the moderation, adding valuable points to the discussion as well, while efficiently summarising the main ideas throughout the whole event.
During her interventions, Mireia highlighted their star project “Pren-los” (“Use them” in English), a Catalonia-based mentorship programme with the aim of creating meaningful youth engagement in advocacy for sexual and reproductive rights, starred of course by young people as the essential stakeholders of their own rights. Through the promotion of individual and collective agency, the final purpose of the mentorship is to contribute to the creation of a strategic youth space of political advocacy in Human Rights, specifically Sexual and Reproductive Rights both nationally and internationally.
<< Pren-los will hopefully succeed at transforming radically local and national institutions in Catalonia, taking, from that collective first person experience and knowledge, a starring role in the design of feminist public policies regarding Sexual and Reproductive Rights.>>
- Mireia Amat, Associació de Drets Sexuals i Reproductius.
Mireia finished with a quote by Salvador Allende: “Being young and not being revolutionary is almost a biological contradiction”. With that, she reinforced the role that grassroots self-organized youth movements have starred in the advancement of youth in socials rights as well as the commitment of young people to advance a feminist transformation and to promote direct and participative democracy.
Ruben contributed to the discussion by pointing out that all challenges that young people face to access HIV and SRH services have a common meeting place, independent of who they are or where they live. That meeting place is where inequalities, exclusion, violence and discrimination sustain the status quo, which prompts us to tackle the root causes that put people at risk.
<<Data is key. UNAIDS has revised its indicators to reflect a more comprehensive view of the barriers faced by young people, including in the context of spousal and age of consent to services, comprehensive sexuality education and youth participation in the HIV response>>
- Ruben Pages, UNAIDS.
As part of his interventions, Ruben also mentioned that supporting meaningful youth participation does not only mean inviting young people to meetings. It also means providing political, technical and financial support to young people, their organizations and networks to advocate, hold stakeholders accountable and inform meaningful policy-decision spaces at every level. Finally, he also gave some insight on the current internal efforts UNAIDS is taking to amplify youth voices and advocate for meaningful youth participation within the organisation.
Our third speaker, Bruna, briefly explained the purpose of the Amsterdam Youth Force, which amplified youth voices during the AIDS conference. Considering the many practical obstacles youth face when it comes to organizing at events like this, through the International Youth Force they decided to carry on their mission to meaningfully involve and support young people’s interests around the AIDS conference.. She started by emphasising the need to search for sustainable partnerships, which at the end of the day helped her organisation thrive and play a meaningful role during AIDS 2018. She followed her first intervention with important remarks on the need to apply transversally an intersectional lens and pointed out how within youth, people attending spaces like the World Health Assembly are still generally part of privileged groups. Bruna finalised by saying how essential it is that we work harder on ensuring young people are actually represented in all their diversity. Being autocritical and transforming our own organisations from within is definitely an important pillar to do so.
<< I don’t only use the term SRHR but I also focus on reproductive justice, as it addresses the structural inequalities that affect women’s reproductive health and choices and that are born from the hegemonic economic system>>
- Bruna Martinez, Amsterdam Youth Force.
Overall, the side event was successful at creating a sharing space where people felt comfortable providing tips, first-hand experiences and perceptions on how privilege and hierarchy could be fought, especially in global decision-making spaces. However, much remains to be done, we need to stop preaching to the converted and as difficult as it might be, take our presence to other spaces. The conversations that arose helped shape a narrative around intersectionality, feminism and social and reproductive justice. As young people, we need to build our actions around this discourse and make sure we transform decision-making spaces from within, not only during staple events such as WHA, but every single day.
ring last year, Watipa (commissioned by UNAIDS and the PACT as part of its #uproot agenda) carried out a study to better understand and document community-led interventions that aim to strengthen demand creation and uptake of HIV and sexual and reproductive health services, with a focus on engaging young people as beneficiaries, partners and implementers.
The full report highlights the role that young people have in demand creation, linkages to care and uptake of services for HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Lucy from Watipa had the chance to interview Allen Kyendikuwa, one of the key researchers in the study. Find out, in the text below, what Allen's insights on the finding of the study are:
Q: Can you please share a bit more information about the objectives and results from the study, including some of the insights you received from the interviews?
The study aimed to assess young people’s participation in community HIV responses, specifically demand creation, linkages to care and uptake of HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights services. It also aimed to document and showcase models of youth participation in community HIV responses.
Q: Can you tell us about some of the main results?
The results indicated that young people play an essential role in demand creation, linkages to care and uptake of services for HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights. It enhances the overall response to HIV and benefits the young people themselves.
Young people play a critical part in enabling access to HIV treatment and retention in care. Young people are actively involved in peer psychosocial support, peer-to-peer consultations, policy engagement processes, peer mobilization around specific campaigns and projects, and peer-supported hospital and care access.
Young people, including young key populations and young people living with HIV, also play a key role in primary HIV prevention, early testing and diagnosis. Peer education, outreach and community engagement are all areas where young people are informing and influencing their peers.
Q: Did you learn anything that surprised you?
This research found that there is a perceived value in young people’s participation in all stages of programme and policy design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. Despite this, young people are often seen as being passive in the process and participating only as beneficiaries; their role as implementers was either overlooked or taken for granted.
Increased attention has been given to the need to disaggregate data to reflect the diversity of young people and the important role they play in gathering data to inform nuanced policies.
Participants in the peer interviews also encouraged donors to resource the time and involvement of young people so that they could be paid for their role in service delivery and not only be considered as volunteers. Concrete suggestions were given to donors to provide core funding to enable organizations run by and for young people to have some funding sustainability and support in setting up governance and organizational structures to facilitate a stronger and more long-term engagement in the local HIV response.
Q: You have done a lot of work at the national level. Can you share a bit more how youth organizations and networks support young people’s health and rights?
They support in changing public perception that young people as seen as being the problem to being the solution. Importantly, they develop leadership potential and community engagement, support policy formulations that enable the involvement of young people, increase the peer to peer information sharing, improve access to services, and can drive consensus towards a common language that amplifies attention to issues relating to young people from international declarations at the national level.
Q: What is your message to donors, policy makers and UN entities, on how they can support youth organizations and networks working on HIV?
It is important to enable opportunities for the participation of young people from a variety of backgrounds (including rural communities) in community-based responses. Project discussion fora, youth-friendly service access and policy engagement processes often are limited to major cities and can leave behind young people in rural or hard-to-reach areas.
Young people’s involvement in the HIV response is primarily siloed. The results from this study showed that young people’s involvement in community based response to HIV is both essential for the response to HIV as well as beneficial for the young people themselves.
Young people have proven to have great impact on the community responses and hence must be given a special package of criteria where young people compete freely within their capacities vs funding calls that have mega criteria requirements that are greater than their years of experience. Conditions for working with young people must inclusively consider partnerships on top of recipient status.
In 2017, under the #Uproot agenda, Youth PACT designed #Uproot report cards on the 2016 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS to assess how well a country is doing in achieving its commitments on adolescents and young people, included in the 2016 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS.
The report cards were developed through a youth lead process and is expected to be implemented at the country level by young people. The result of this report tool summarizes the steps taken by a state to achieve the commitments that it has agreed in the 2016 political declaration on HIV. The findings could be used to develop advocacy strategies to be used by young people to advocate with their governments.
The audit tool used to score the country contains five themes or categories: Laws and Policies, Participation, Partnerships, Beneficiaries and Leaders. The audit tool allows for both quantitative and qualitative data to be inputed, assessing if the country is on track or off track in achieving the commitments set forth in the 2016 political declaration on HIV. For the implementation the score cards in Asia, Youth Voices Count and UNAIDS Asia Pacific led the process in close collaboration with our implementing partners in the five countries. These are Myanmar Youth Stars (Myanmar), KHANA (Cambodia), Diversity and Solidarity Trust (Sri Lanka), Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS -APL+ (Laos), and Center for Human Progress (India).
After successfully undergoing an online training on how best to implement the score card, the youth implementers have worked hand-in-hand with UNAIDS country teams to invite young people and develop an engaging, youth-centered approach to the score card’s implementation. As of writing, only our colleagues in Myanmar and Cambodia have implemented the score card last April 22 and May 8, respectively. The other countries will soon follow their implementation.
To share some of the results and learning points from the scorecard implementation in Myanmar, some of the findings have concluded that myanmar is off track to ensuring enabling environment, including protective laws and policies to guarantee young people’s access to HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights and meeting the country’s commitment in the 2016 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS. They have also derived from the consultation that young people, including adolescents are not significantly benefitting from the national HIV response and may jeopardize the achievement of the commitments agreed in the 2016 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS.
Youth Voices Count has learned through the implementation of the scorecards that young people of diverse identities and those most affected with HIV and AIDS, including young MSM, young transgender, young sex workers, young persons who inject drugs, young people in rural communities and students, have to lead in the response and monitoring of state commitments concerning young people and HIV/SRHR. This is one of the most effective ways to ensure that young people are at the forefront of the response and have full control of their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Justin Francis Bionat
Regional Coordinator of Youth Voices Count
Non-governmental organisations and government agencies in Zimbabwe are campaigning to Leave Noone Behind: End Violence against women and girls.
In Mutare, Women’s Action and Support Centre (WASC), a Non-Profit Making Trust has joined the bandwagon of organisations in combating gender based violence (GBV) against women and girls which is now rampant in the country.
In an interview with WASC Programs Officer Mr Tapiwa Chibodo in the eastern border city recently, he said they are going to do a door to door campaign in urban areas.
“In 2015 we campaigned against GBV by marching in the streets and last year we did a workshop. This year we have planned to do something new early December, preparations have been finalised to do a door to door campaign in the 16 days of activism.”
He added: “We did an assessment and observed that messages were not reaching other women, so we are confident that door to door campaign will leave noone behind,” said Chibodo.
He said the campaign will target all, especially women and young girls raising awareness on GBV issues.
“WASC is going to educate women on what is GBV because some women do not know what it means. There is need to educate them on their rights that are enshrined in the constitution, women should know that they are protected by the rule of the land,’’ he said.
WASC will raise awareness on the rights of women using posters which are going to be distributed in Mutare throughout the 16 days of activism.
The organisation has identified problems which poses GBV against women and provide solutions to such problems.
"We have identified that women’s lack of economic resources is one of the major contributors to GBV against women. So the organisation came up with strategies to economically empower women to combat GBV against them."
''There is a women’s fund program namely Chisipiti Oasis Women’s Fund which offers small capital funding to women engaged in small projects. It is available for women who do not meet prerequisites needed in accessing finances in the mainstream financial institutions,’’ said Chibodo.
WASC provides entrepreneurial skills training on demand such as financial literacy, sewing, baking, and braiding.
Farai Shawn Matiashe is a freelancer based in Zimbabwe who is passionate about writing about gender based violence and the abuse of commercial sex workers.
La fecha llegó y desde diferentes partes del país emprendimos nuestro camino al centro, donde suceden muchas cosas. Comenzamos a llegar, muchas no nos conocíamos, otras no teníamos muy claro el objetivo de lo que nos reunía, pero todas con la mejor actitud de compartir, reencontrarnos y construir entre pares.
Empezaron las actividades temprano, dialogando sobre la situación actual de temas como los ODS, la salud
sexual y reproductiva, diversidad sexual, VIH, servicios de salud amigables para jóvenes, participación juvenil
en la toma de decisiones, entre otros temas de interés para nosotras.
Poco a poco las conversaciones se tornaban más avanzadas y técnicas, todas comenzábamos a desinhibirnos y el
diálogo fluía, comenzaba a emerger no sólo la experiencia teórica sino también las experiencias de campo,
nuestros contextos personales y las experiencias vividas desde nuestras trincheras. Todo fluía de manera
armoniosa y la cantidad de conocimiento e información aumentaba entre los minutos y las horas que corrían.
Terminamos la primera jornada y llegó el tiempo de convivir de forma más amena, dejando a un lado el peso del
conocimiento, las luchas y demás.
Amanece, el sol llega y la segunda sesión de trabajo comienza. El momento del diagnóstico general se había
terminado y era hora de articular nuevos procesos a partir de las zonas de las cuales veníamos a esta reunión.
Todos los equipos trabajamos, poniendo en práctica el conocimiento adquirido y la experiencia de cada una de
Buscamos diseñar protocolos de investigación, para obtener información cualitativa y cuantitativa sobre los temas
que nos competen en la población a la que pertenecemos y por la cual trabajamos, las juventudes.
Llegó la noche y era hora de que la segunda sesión terminará. Después de una rica cena volvimos a reencontrarnos
para seguir conversando y conociéndonos en lo personal. Muchas historias, relatos, experiencias y sobre todo
coincidencias entre lo que hemos vivido. Sin importar que nos separaran kilómetros de distancia y varias horas
de viaje, éramos diferentes pero nos sentíamos iguales.
Amaneció y llegó la hora de la última jornada. Era momento de
presentar los avances de nuestros protocolos de investigación, mostrar
lo que trabajaremos posteriormente y retroalimentarnos unas a otras. El
tiempo se iba agotando, teníamos que partir pronto para regresar a casa,
aun cuando llevábamos un par de días sintiéndonos en familia. Llegó la
hora de hacer acuerdos sobre los proyectos, los siguientes pasos en el
proceso de ACT! 2030 México y demás. Terminamos la jornada con
una comida, para después entre abrazos de despedida, sonrisas y un
poco de melancolía, dejar la promesa de volvernos a encontrar pronto.
El taller de datos para la incidencia, por parte del equipo de ACT! 2030
México fue una experiencia genial. Una oportunidad de aprender y
recapitular conversaciones sobre diversos temas que trabajamos pero
sobre todo, fue una ocasión especial para reencontrarnos unas con otras,
para fortalecer nuestras ganas de seguir trabajando por nosotras, las
juventudes, siempre recordando “no dejar a nadie atrás”.
By Rubén Ávila. Nuevo León, México
Del 6 al 8 de octubre se llevó a cabo el taller “Datos para la Incidencia”, organizado por ACT! 2030 México, aquí
participamos personas que colaboramos en organizaciones de la sociedad civil relacionados a temas de
prevención de VIH y Sida, otras infecciones de transmisión sexual, derechos sexuales y reproductivos. El objetivo
fue tener información reciente y relevante en torno al VIH y trabajar desde esa mirada con problemáticas
regionales que aquejan nuestras comunidades, en este sentido generamos, entre otras cosas, un ejercicio de
protocolo de investigación.
Sobre el espacio Casa Xitla, me queda el buen sabor de boca al conocer este lugar tan tranquilo para trabajar, las
personas que administran dicho lugar son muy cordiales y sensibles a la problemática del medio ambiente, tal es
esta visión que en las instalaciones de Casa Xitla tiene un sistema eco sustentable donde reciclan el agua de uso
diario. Al ser antes un convento, tiene instalaciones muy grandes y cómodas para convivir, salir a tomar aire
fresco y realizar algunas dinámicas como parte del taller.
Referente a los expositores, son personas muy preparadas, todos/as abonaron al qué hacer del proceso de
investigación científico, sobre métodos y técnicas de recolección de datos para la generación de investigaciones
confiables y de relevancia social. Me gustó su intervención en general porque supieron aterrizar los temas de una
manera muy amena y simplificada, promoviendo en todo momento la participación del grupo, el intercambio de
información y la socialización de las experiencias que nos acompañaron a cada asistente desde su estado y ciudad
Los y las compañeras asistentes, personas con grandes cualidades y aportaciones, enriquecieron con su
participación cada momento del taller, se percibía una energía muy positiva y propositiva, tomando con buena
actitud la información, que, si bien fue mucha y muy importante, fue asertiva y despejó muchas dudas y prejuicios
que uno en lo personal arrastra referente al VIH.
Al tener espacios para convivir como las comidas, las pláticas al final de las jornadas de trabajo, pudimos
intercambiar las redes sociales de nuestros compañeros/as y conocer más de cerca sus actividades y qué es lo que
hacen las asociaciones donde ellas y ellos colaboran.
En lo personal, me siento satisfecho por participar en este tipo de talleres, donde en todo momento recibimos un
nuevo conocimiento que nos permite crecer como personas y como profesionales en esta materia; al tener
información de gente experta y que ha realizado investigación en torno a los temas, me permitió transmitir dicha
información a los espacios donde colaboro en mi localidad.
Como pendientes, el equipo de estados del norte nos comprometimos a realizar un protocolo de investigación
para contribuir a la construcción de datos científicos sobre la respuesta al VIH en nuestra región y seguir al
pendiente de la agenda de ACT! 2030 México.
Muchas gracias por el esfuerzo en este proyecto y seguir confiando en la juventud.
By Francisco Díaz. Chihuahua, Mexico.
Justice for survivors of sexual violence remains to be an illusion that they seem to chase despite the enactment of the sexual offenses act which was enacted in response to curb the escalating sexual violence. According to the Kenya Domestic Household Survey (KDHS) 2014, 14 percent of women aged 15-49 reported having experienced sexual violence.
According to the Access to Justice Report, conducted by UN Women in 2015, 72.6 percent of survivors were unwilling to pursue justice; while only five percent of the survivors seen in facilities in 2014 were willing to go to court owing to insensitivity of law enforcers. The enactment of the Sexual Offences Act has not been matched with adequate training and dissemination of the Act to law-enforcement officers and relevant justice system agents.
Most of the police stations don’t have the p3 forms which is a crucial document required to be filled by the police at the station and a medical provider hence victims are made to go print or photocopy the form so it can be filled. The National guidelines on management of sexual violence state that p3 forms for victims of sexual violence including rape should be free but the trends in most counties in their Finance Acts is that they are imposing a fee on the p3 form. Most victims of sexual violence come from poor families hence this deters survivors from reporting and creates a barrier of access to justice.
There are few medical providers who are allowed to fill the p3 forms and this extends the time within which one can access medical attention and have p3 form filled which is a document required to institute a case. With the nature of injuries during rape which tend to heal fast and with the doctors being overwhelmed as they deal with hundreds of cases daily, there is a chance that when they get to examine a victim most of the wounds will have healed hence evidence destroyed and making conviction of the perpetrator very hard.
Despite there being such progressive laws in Kenya like the Sexual Offenses Act which was enacted in response to curb the escalating sexual violence, without proper implementation of the laws and policies by the stakeholders and lack of commitment by the parties the realization of justice is just a theory.
Kevin Gitau Mwangi is an advocate of the high court currently practicing in Kenya and currently working with a Non-Governmental organization called Kenya Ethical and Legal Issues Network (KELIN) under the sexual reproductive health and rights to ensure that human rights on reproductive health are integrated into policies, laws, and regulations
Participar en el Taller “Datos para la Incidencia” de ACT!2030 ha sido una experiencia inigualable. Tuve la
oportunidad de conocer a muchas personas de toda la República Mexicana, a quienes nos unían distintas causas
en común, en especial la de generar cambios y avances en materia de salud sexual y reproductiva. ¡Eso sí que me
motivó a participar activamente durante todo el taller!
Fue mi primera experiencia de este tipo, aprendí cosas sumamente enriquecedoras, como que las personas jóvenes
lo somos no por razón de nuestra edad, sino por –entre muchas otras- nuestra capacidad para contribuir de forma
positiva en la toma de decisiones respecto a situaciones que nos interesan, en este caso en temas de salud y
derechos sexuales y reproductivos.
También pude fortalecer mis conocimientos sobre investigación y entendí la relevancia de emplear mecanismos
de contraloría social; todo esto se traduce en herramientas que beneficiarán directamente a la organización de la
sociedad civil a la que pertenezco, Progrésale A. C.
Sin duda alguna, me gustaría asistir a nuevos eventos organizados por ACT! 2030 México y así continuar
sumando esfuerzos para dar seguimiento a los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible. ¡Entre más personas se
integren, los resultados tendrán un mayor impacto!
By Andrea Avilez. Mexico City, Mexico
Just as I was about to fall asleep a little after midnight there was a knock on the window of the car we were sleeping in, my friends and I were requested to go prepare late night tea for the mourners gathered and singing at the night vigil. Need we be reminded that we had been instructed to be up by 4am to sweep the yard and to start boiling water for the mourners to bath before starting on the preparation for breakfast and lunch.
Earlier when we had arrived the relatives were pleasantly happy that the daughter in law and her ‘helpers’ had arrived from the city to take over the hard labor. It was indeed hard labor and the fact that the reception we received had not been pleasant did made the work and experience much harder. I felt like crying more often than I had to say hello to anyone that arrived, not crying to mourn my father-in-law but because of the emotional abuse I was going through just because I was a daughter-in-law.
Day one was done a little after 1am and we surely were up by 4am to start on the chores. As some of my husband’s friends started assisting us with fetching water from the well so as to save our backs, they were soon stopped as it was not permitted to help the daughter-in-law to perform her duties. The same friends came over to assist in cutting the beast that had been slaughtered for consumption at the funeral lunch, but once again they were stopped because the cooking and the kitchen was not a place for men, that was the women’s duty.
At this moment I was numb, actually I thought I was but I was not ready for what was still to come. As tradition says, the daughter-in-law has to carry a bucket of water on her head and crawl to the grave with it. I thought it ended there, no one prepared me for anything more. As I finished pouring out the water and as I was about to get up I felt two whips strike across my back, they called it tradition.
Tinashe Madamombe is a freelance writer who is passionate about women's empowerment and development. She enjoys writing opinion feminist pieces that challenge the status core