Hundreds of young leaders meeting in Copenhagen, Demark for a conference to address girls' and women's health and rights issues said they must raise their voices for meaningful involvement in decision-making.
Ahead of the Women Deliver conference (16-19 May), more than 500 young participants from across the world met at a pre-conference to discuss how they must "shout to be heard" in order to be included in decision-making on sexual and reproductive health issues if the newly-launched sustainable development goals (SDGs) are to be achieved by 2030.
Panellists pointed out that young people are some of the most affected by lack of access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including being at elevated risk of HIV exposure and difficulty accessing contraceptives, hence they should be key advocates in the response.
Engaging in inter-generational dialogue
Mark Wanjohi Gachagua, a Kenyan youth leader and panellist during the pre-conference, said: "It's time we started questioning every move, concerning us, especially about health, made by older people."
Quoting a common Swahili expression "kuuliza si ujinga" (questioning is no foolishness), Mark advised young participants to stop waiting for older people to make decisions for them but to engage in inter-generational dialogue and come up with a collaborative decision. He said: "There is more to meaningful youth involvement than attending international conferences and sitting in big meetings. Unless we air our views in such platforms we shall continue murmuring that we are being used as a rubber stamp."
Damaris Mumbua, a participant at the pre-conference concurred with Mark saying meaningful youth involvement in sexual and reproductive health matters, such as HIV, is imperative and should be discussed across the generations regardless of culture or religion which sometimes can be hindrances. She noted that young people are better positioned to respond to HIV because of their physical energy, internet technology for rapid advocacy and can find innovative solutions through peer discussions. She said: "The sheer imagination of an HIV-free world gives me the zeal to shout louder in order to push the HIV discourse to higher heights."
Meaningful youth involvement strategies
Link Up is a three-year consortium project led by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, which works with young people in Africa and Asia to improve their sexual and reproductive health and rights through advocacy, service delivery, and research.
Based on its foundational approach to meaningful youth participation in all aspects of the project, Link Up staff and youth advocates have developed a set of top ten strategies for meaningfully engaging young people, Aiming High. Aiming High is a brief designed for policy-makers, civil society organisations, and others who want to "put their money where their mouth is" and implement changes to prioritise working closely and collaboratively with young people.
The Link Up approach to meaningful youth engagement supports young people to be valued for their time and expertise (both financially and in decision-making), to be supported with training and technical support to engage in policy and programme environments, and to be treated as equal partners. Aiming High includes Link Up youth advocates' top ten "must do urgently" strategies to ensure that young people are included in planning, implementation, policy, and all aspects of decision-making. The list also includes real-life examples from within the Link Up project, sharing success stories from Bangladesh, Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Myanmar.
As Yemurai Nyoni, Women Deliver Youth Leader alumni and plenary speaker at the conference, said: "We have the power to disrupt every cycle that yields negative results for women, girls, and young people."