By: Maria Inés Romero (26, Paraguay) and Wieke Vink (20, the Netherlands), members of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights
This next blog in our series "2015+" is a conversation between two Youth Coalition members (ages 20 and 26) about youth sexual and reproductive rights and why they think it’s important to put young people at the heart of the next development agenda.
Wieke Vink: Ines, you and I were both so young when governments and activists gathered in Cairo in 1994 for the International Conference on Population and Development. Despite the fact that the conference took place 17 years ago, what impact has ICPD and its Programme of Action had on your life?
Maria Inés Romero: I was 9 years-old in 1994, and at that time I had no clue that history was being made! As a result of ICPD, and the passion and dedication of activists that came before me, I am now able to defend my sexual and reproductive health and rights and to advocate for other young people around the world, just as my predecessors did. How old were you?
Wieke: I was only 3 years old when the ICPD Programme of Action was created. Little did I know, it was a decade of many changes and big global concerns about population, development and environment. It was the decade where women proclaimed, “Women’s rights are human rights!”
Ines: I’m sure the young people who gathered in Cairo in ’94 probably thought that sexual and reproductive rights around the world would have been secured by now - but this hasn’t happen yet. I’m sure they would have thought, “Where do we go from here?”
Wieke: That’s the big question, isn’t it?! First, I think we need to declare that youth sexual and reproductive rights are human rights. To me, this means ensuring young women’s right to legal, safe and affordable abortion. Universal access to reproductive health, including safe abortion, is crucial to development.
Ines: In particular, I think we can work within MDG5b to make this a reality! Since the Millennium Development Goals are time-bound targets and indicators, they are helpful in assessing countries’ progress on development and keeping governments accountable to their commitments. The MDGs certainly offer an opportunity to strengthen our advocacy work as it relates to youth sexual and reproductive rights.
Wieke: We also need to provide young people with access to information and services related to their sexual and reproductive health. Young people need access to a full package of SRH services, including contraceptives and comprehensive sexuality education. It is unbearable to think that there are still over 500 million adolescent girls that do not have access to basic health services. Many of them are married early against their will and become pregnant without their consent. With information, resources and empowerment, young women and men can make the best decisions for themselves and their communities.
Ines: For us to do all these things, it’s so crucial that we involve youth in program and policy decisions that affect their health and lives. We need to ask young people what their needs and priorities are, and work with them to create the tools they need to address their rights. We need to empower and champion their involvement in decision-making!
Wieke: When our sexual and reproductive health and rights are guaranteed, when we have access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, and when we’re meaningfully involved in the decision-making that affects us, we can protect ourselves from the transmission of HIV and STIs. We can choose our partner and decide when and if to be sexually active. We can plan whether or not we want to be parents and if so, to choose the number and spacing of our children. This is what’s at stake.
Ines: So, those of us who grew up in the era of Cairo have lots to do! It’s up to us to get governments and civil society to commit to our sexual and reproductive health and rights. We need decision-makers to invest in the world’s 1.8 billion young people by supporting young advocates and youth-led initiatives.
No matter what comes next, let’s work together to put youth at the heart of development!
- SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW! Women Deliver will continue to post thoughts and opinions on this topic from key leaders in the field throughout the coming months. Please stay tuned to all our "Beyond 2015" blogs.