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Young people fight to get their voices heard on sexual and reproductive health rights

©Mohammad Ashraful Huda, Bangladesh

10.04.2012

Over 1 billion young people between the age of 10 and 24 live in Asia and the Pacific. Most of them live in developing countries. And while there has been great progress in recent years, many of them face multi-faceted problems.

According to a WHO study in 2009, suicide is the second largest cause of mortality in the 10-24 age group.  Often this is due to emotional and social problems related to sexual and reproductive health, such as sexual violence and the breakdown of relationships, as stated in the International Planned Parenthood Federation Framework for Comprehensive Sexuality Education 2010. On top of that, the 2011 UNICEF report “Opportunities in Crisis” showed that the Asia-Pacific region has about 500,000 young people living with HIV.

Young people, especially young girls, lack access to appropriate information in support of their sexual and reproductive health and rights. According to the latest State of World Population report, People and Possibilities in a World of 7 Billion, (2011), globally, 31 per cent of young males (aged 15-24) and 19 percent of young females had accurate knowledge regarding HIV — still well below the 95 per cent goal for young people’s HIV knowledge unanimously endorsed by Member States in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. 

“What makes young people suffer - abortion, violence, youth pregnancy and HIV & AIDS - is due to lack of information. Information can help people to be free. Comprehensive sex education is needed,” said Mr Rinaldi Ridwan, 24, from Indonesia, a youth coordinator from the International Planned Parenthood Federation based in Malaysia.  

Ms. Ta Thi Hoai Giang, a 20-year-old student from Foreign Trade University in Hanoi and intern at the Centre for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population, a non-profit organization in Viet Nam, agreed saying that “comprehensive sex education will help if people can gain knowledge when they are young, I believe”. 

UNESCO’s International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education 2009 recommends that sexuality education begins early, from age 5.

Young girls in the region are faced with gender inequality, puberty, and parental and marriage consent, which create further challenges in obtaining accurate and reliable information about their own bodies and sexuality, according to UNESCO and the Asia-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW) for Change.

“Asia-Pacific is quite a conservative society, so for us access to resources and information is very difficult and that has put our health and our well being at risk, which is something that needs to be addressed,” said Rishita Nandagiri, 25, from India.  

“When anyone or government come up with a sexuality education package but they don’t engage young people, there’s no point. That’s why you can see the fertility rate is so high, that’s why we have issues like child marriage, so many young women dying in child birth because of unsafe abortion.”  

“These issues impact us in so many levels, so young people should stand up and say that these issues affect us the most. And we are the most vulnerable to these situations because we don’t have access to resources,” said Ms. Nandagiri, who works as a programme officer in Women’s Global Network for Reproductions Rights, a Dutch NGO based in the Philippines.

Recently, 25 young participants from 11 countries in Asia Pacific gathered at UNESCO Bangkok in Thailand for the ‘Asia Pacific Youth Partners Advocacy Training and Strategy Meeting: In preparation for Commission on Population & Development 2012’ for their voices to be heard at an upcoming conference in New York, US. 

The Commission on Population and Development is tasked with following up on the implementation of Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development. The Commission monitors, reviews, and assesses the implementation of the Programme of Action at the national, regional, and international levels. The 45th session of the Commission on Population and Development will be held between 23-27 April under the theme ‘Adolescents and Youth’.  

“Last year at the Conference on Population and Development in New York there were not enough young people, not enough young people from civil society, not enough young people on delegations, and that needs to be changed.

“And given that this year the theme is adolescent and young people it is especially urgent and very important to have more young people involved,” said Ms. Nandagiri, a young NGO worker from India.

The preparation meeting at UNESCO Bangkok has been the first formal platform for young people in Asia and the Pacific in preparing for the Commission 2012 session. It was organised with the partnership between the Asia Pacific Research and Resource Centre for Women, Women Global Network of Reproductive Rights, IPPF South Asia Regional Youth Network and with support from UNFPA and UNESCO. 

Ms. Giang from Viet Nam and Ms. Nandagiri from India were among the participants. 

The objective of the two-day meeting was to position youth activists’ input within Asia and the Pacific region into the Commission on Population and Development advocacy initiatives to claim young people’s and adolescent’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

“The New York Conference is an international platform for advocacy for young people to make your demand, to ask. The Bangkok preparation meeting is about the alliance building and it’s also about talking advocacy, how you can advocate at this level, what you are saying, what you are demanding, what you are asking, and who you are speaking on behalf of.  You’d need to be able to understand what the issues are at this moment.”

“We can influence the process. It’s a lot of networking. You have to fight, you have to build relationships, you have to have the evidence, the data, you have to build your alliance, and you have to believe that you can make a change, however small it is,” said Ms. Nandagiri.
  
Mr. Ridwan will attend the International Conference on Population and Development in New York in April. 

“We have to believe in what we do. We can make a change. We can make a realistic ambition for short, middle and long term. Coming to this preparation meeting is a starting point. It is a part of process, but not the only,” he said. 

by Rojana Manowalailao, UNESCO Bangkok


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