Over 200 young leaders from around the world have been meeting to discuss issues of women and girls' health, ahead of the Women Deliver conference which kicks off today (16 May) in Denmark.
Over 500 young leaders from around the world have been meeting to discuss issues of women and girls’ health, ahead of the Women Deliver conference which kicks off today (16 May) in Copenhagen, Denmark.
During the youth pre-conference delegates discussed economic and political inclusion of young people at the leadership table irrespective of gender or age. Dalia Younis, a participant from Egypt, said: “Young people should be actively involved in knowledge sharing because knowledge is key in preventing and accessing essential HIV and care services. If more young people are aware of how to prevent and manage HIV, the issues like stigma and discrimination associated with HIV would be reduced.”
Over the next few days, more than 5,000 participants comprising young people, key stakeholders and world leaders are expected at the conference to address health and rights issues affecting girls and women such as HIV, unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal mortality. The focus will be on tackling the problems girls and women face daily and will help shape the future for young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Young people at risk of HIV
According to the UNAIDS Gap Report, not everyone has equitable access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services, and this includes young people who are often more sexually active, putting them at even greater risk of exposure. In Africa, AIDS is now the leading cause of death for adolescents, and it is the second leading cause of adolescent deaths globally (UNAIDS).
With the conference getting into full speed, it is hoped that participants will work together to identify solutions and collaborations around implementing the newly-finalised sustainable development goals (SDGs). Women Deliver has designed the conference as a space to support implementation of the SDGs so they matter most for girls and women, with a specific focus on health – in particular maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights – and on gender equality, education, environment, and economic empowerment.
Julie Mellin, manager of the Global Youth Coalition on HIV and AIDS (GYCA), said: “Advocacy around young people’s health and rights must be driven by young people and fully supported with financial capital and technical support.”
Identifying the barriers
UNAIDS’ Gap Report also states that a study in South Africa found that women who experienced intimate partner violence were 50 per cent more likely to have acquired HIV than women who have not experienced violence. The available data suggests that married adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 years are the most affected by spousal physical or sexual violence.
A number of barriers prevent young people from accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care services such as cultural beliefs, religion, lack of education, poverty and lack of youth-friendly services.
Alicia Moncada, project manager for Indigenous Women Organisation in Venezuela, said: “Another major barrier especially for girls is the lack of voice or control of their own bodies. Gender-based violence, patriarchal societies and colonialism, poor education and access to health services prevent these girls from protecting themselves against HIV, particularly as they transition into adulthood. This is made worse by issues such as gender-based violence and early child marriage and a poor intercultural relationship between western and indigenous education.”
Breaking the barriers
Young people are rarely allowed to express their diverse and challenging health needs, or given the opportunity to be included in decision and policy making on issues that affect them. But to effectively address the various sexual and reproductive health issues which affect young women, including sexual violence, unplanned pregnancies, maternal mortality and risk of HIV, young women must be at the fore in programming, policy making and educating their peers.
Welcoming the 2016 cohort of Women Deliver Young Leaders, founder of Women Deliver Jill Sheffield said: “We’ve learned that we can’t possibly do this work for girls and women without young people.”
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