July 21, 2014

Young people get in the zone for sexual and reproductive health and rights

This post originally appeared on IPPF’s website here. Reposted with permission.

21 July, Melbourne, A networking zone at the 20th International Aids Conference in Melbourne will champion the place of young people when it comes to efforts on sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV.

Unveiled by the International Planned Parenthood (IPPF) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the zone was officially opened by South African icon, musician and humanitarian, Yvonne Chaka Chaka today.

Young people make up the largest demographic of the world’s population. More than two million are living with HIV. Beyond the epidemic, young people face barriers in accessing contraception, and complications linked to pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 years old globally.

The Coolibah Young People’s Leadership in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Networking Zone will provide young people with an opportunity to work together, create networks and share knowledge, skills and experiences in leadership and engagement in sexual and reproductive health and rights. It will be youth-led with support from UNAIDS Joint Programme and partners.

Alan Smith, Senior HIV Advisor for IPPF, said chairing the event, “Working with and for young people is not a choice; it is an imperative. Beyond the sheer size of the youth population, they face significant obstacles in exercising their right to health and accessing the services they need to prevent HIV infection and avoid STIs and unwanted pregnancy. From stigma and social norms to cost and convenience, the barriers that young people come up against translate into the delay or denial of access to services.

“We must do more to ensure that young people are able to turn their decisions for their lives into reality including universal access to HIV treatment. We have a responsibility to engage with young people not only for the promotion of their health but, also, for the promotion of their development as citizens, partners and leaders.”

Kate Gilmore, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director, spoke of how young people were a top priority,“It is simply unacceptable that AIDS today is a leading cause of death amongst adolescents. Putting young people, particularly adolescent girls, at the centre of rights-based responses to HIV is overdue and urgent. We must act to protect their lives and uphold their rights by insisting on their unfettered access to sexuality education, services and information. That is what UNFPA is committed to doing, with our civil society partners and in cooperation with governments, wherever young people’s sexual and reproductive health and well- being are at risk.”

Yvonne Chaka Chaka, launching the zone said:
“Young people are our future. But we are long way off from giving them all they need for their sexual and reproductive health and rights to flourish and enrich our communities. Without their involvement how can we possibly shape policy or services that seek to improve and enrich their lives. Young people face all sorts of problems and are often not given the safe space to talk, to seek help or be protected. Our booming youth populations require an understanding of what their sexual and reproductive health needs are and how we can enable them to find the solutions together and uphold their rights.”

The launch was followed by a panel discussion with young people from the Melbourne Youth Force and The PACT on the role of youth leadership and human rights in shaping services that are fit for purpose.

Melbourne Youth Force said at the event:“ As the Melbourne Youth Force, we represent the voice of young people today in the united response to HIV. The development of a youth-led zone focusing on the sexual and reproductive health and rights is a positive step forward, guaranteeing the strong and cohesive integration of young leaders in all aspects of policy, science and advocacy beyond 2014.

“The key youth messages for AIDS 2014 are based on the foundation of treating all people and respecting all rights, developed by a global e-consultation; we actively encourage and welcome the visitors of the Coolibah zone to share”.