By: Lindsay Menard-Freeman, Women Deliver, and Julie A. Cornell, Johnson & Johnson
On Thursday, September 26th a group of young activists from around the world gathered at the UN Church Center to discuss ways in which young people can contribute meaningfully to the post-2015 development framework, particularly related to HIV and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Each speaker underscored the importance of ensuring that young people have a seat at the table where global development decisions are made and a stake in the post-2015 development agenda.
Dr. Luiz Loures, Deputy Director of UNAIDS, opened the session by reminding the audience of a stark statistic: There are 1.8 billion young people around the world and 3 billion people under the age of 30. The majority of policy makers deciding the post-2015 framework will be far advanced in age, or indeed no long around, by the time most of these young people have matured into adulthood.
So where are the young people in this discussion about the future of development?
“If we do not invest in young people now—in their health, in their education—the cost of not doing so will be more than the world can bear in the future,” Loures said. “We need to have a dialogue between generations if we’re truly going to make progress.”
Dr. Loures highlighted the very real possibility of eliminating HIV and AIDS in the lifetime of today’s youth, but added that it would not be possible to do so unless we address disease in marginalized populations.
“We cannot negotiate any further,” he said. “We must not leave anyone behind in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and this especially means key affected populations.”
European parliamentarian Michael Cashman agreed with Dr. Loures and added that the next development framework may very well leave behind the most vulnerable unless governments rescind oppressive legislation that criminalizes already marginalized populations, including men who have sex with men, sex workers, injecting drug users and people living with HIV.
The young activists then took the stage, including Oseias Cerqueira of Brazil, Jackie Kemigisha of Uganda, Kiara St. James of the United States, and Sydney Hushie of Ghana. Each represented one or more of the sponsoring organizations, including the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GYCA), HIV Young Leaders Fund, Housing Works, and International HIV/AIDS Alliance, among others.
- Kiara St. James discussed her experience as a homeless transgender woman who was consistently refused a bed in New York City shelters and how trans women are often forced into survival sex. Transgender women of color are very often not in decision-making roles due to their struggle just to survive day to day.
- Jackie Kemigisha spoke about her experience as a survivor of sexual violence and a young woman living with HIV in Uganda. Youth-friendly services were not widely available and the health providers she met when trying to access treatment were judgmental because she was young.
- Sydney Hushie, who has been a youth activist in the HIV response for over a decade, reminded the audience that young people are a strong force for change, and have been convened at a global level. “We have been asking for what we want. It’s now a matter of getting governments and global stakeholders to take us seriously and listen,” he said.
The panelists urged the audience to use their voices whenever and wherever possible to advocate for a post-2015 agenda that promotes the empowerment of youth and universal access so that no one is left behind. In addition to rolling back oppressive policies at the national level that discriminate against key affected populations, young people themselves must to be empowered with the skills and resources to advocate on their own behalf.
Dr. Loures closed the panel by encouraging the audience to reject a post-2015 agenda that doesn’t adequately address stigma and discrimination: “We can have all the innovation in the world and new technologies to prevent and treat HIV. At the end of the day, stigma and discrimination are the biggest barrier to getting to zero, and that has to change.”
Photo, via IAVI on Twitter