UNGA: Young people unite over sexual and reproductive health rights

As a girl, Beatrice knew she was treated differently from her brother. “I had to work when he would play,” she says. “As I grew up I did not know anything about my body changing and my sexuality, about contraception.”

As a girl, Beatrice knew she was treated differently from her brother. “I had to work when he would play,” she says. “As I grew up I did not know anything about my body changing and my sexuality, about contraception.”

Today, as a human rights activist Beatrice is fighting against child marriage in her country, Zimbabwe.

“Now I want to share everything I learned with my peers,” she says.

Beatrice and other young activists held a discussion on 24th September, 2015 on young people’s contribution to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health for all by 2030.

The event, organized by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, STOP AIDS NOW! , The Civil Society Working Group on HIV in the Post 2015 development agenda, Act 2015/The Pact, Have You Seen My Rights,  UNAIDS and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria drew activists, governments and civil society  representatives and young people from many countries.

Significant participation

As the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the world’s new development agenda, officially launches this weekend at the 70th session of the United Nations’ General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, America, young people are demanding greater involvement in the implementation of the sexual and reproductive health targets.

One of the panelists, Cedric Nininahazwe of RNJ+ in Burundi said “young people should not participate as targets but as stakeholders” in sexual and reproductive health programmes. Indeed, as young people now account for 40% of all new HIV infections and some five million young people aged 15-24 are living with HIV, there has never been a greater need for young people to participate in the activities that target them.

Panelist Lotte Dijkstra, the newly appointed  Dutch Youth Ambassador for Sexual and Reproductive Health for the Netherlands, said young people must be “given the means to participate” in programmes that affect them. This includes the need to meaningfully engage in political spaces so we are able to contribute to the formation of policies relating to sexual and reproductive health’’ she added.

Daniel Tobón, a panelist from Columbia, argued that. “Young people do not want to be flown all around the world,” he said. “They want to be involved in programmes. They want to significantly participate.”

Recognising young people’s sexuality

Participants felt the commitment to leaving no one behind  will be meaningless until young people are enabled to enjoy a safe, sexual life without judgment, coercion, and legal constraint.

“We have to recognise the sexual and reproductive rights of young people. As long as we don’t recognise sexuality as a right, young people will still face sexual and reproductive health issues. Is it okay that young people die of preventable diseases such as AIDS?” Daniel

Dr. Marijke Wijnroks, Chief of Staff at the Global Funds to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria who attended the event, said: “Sexuality is part of life and young people must be recognised as autonomous and sexual beings.”

Beatrice made point about informed choices: “We have to invest in comprehensive sex education and in girls’ education to make sure young people enjoy their right to make informed decisions about their health,” she said.

Recognizing the sexual rights of young people relates to changing attitudes so that young people’s sexuality is not policed and services are provided without judgment.

Cedric said: “While the laws and the social norms regard young men who have sex with men and young sex workers differently, we see human beings and do not want to discriminate against them.”

Cut crossing approach

What became clear during the discussion is how closely sexual and reproductive health is linked to other issues such as gender inequality, human rights and poverty.

Because of this, each SDG must be addressed in relation to others, rather than being dealt with alone.

Lotte said: “Young people need to work outside our respective silos and use a more holistic approach by identifying how other issues are related to sexual and reproductive health.”

To achieve SDG targets on sexual and reproductive health, young people must use a “cross cutting approach” in their initiatives in order to address all the issues that affect sexual and reproductive health, panelists said.

Daniel added that young people who advocate for sexual and reproductive health rights need to “work outside of our bubble and bring new people to the discussion. We also need to create dialogue with other advocates on other issues in order to see how we can better collaborate.”

The side event was organized as part of the Link Up programme, coordinated by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, which is working to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of more than one million young people in Bangladesh, Burundi, EthiopiaMyanmar and Uganda.