Monday, 31 August, 2009

Call for Applications: VIKALP: Searching for Alternatives

Call for Applications

UNESCO and The YP Foundation
VIKALP: Searching for Alternatives
A Youth Forum for Social Change

13th-16th November 2009, New Delhi

The Youth Forum on Social Change, to be held in New Delhi from the 13th to 16th of November 2009, is aimed at promoting youth led dialogue and action in India, by bringing together young people from across the country to share best practices and examine strategies on how they can build youth action in an inclusive and cohesive manner.

The Youth Forum aims to facilitate the active engagement of young people, by focusing on youth led community work in four specific issues of gender and sexuality, education, disability and HIV/AIDS.

The four-day forum will bring together 32 young people who are implementing existing youth led community work in these four cross cutting areas. All expenses relating to travel, accommodation and food will be covered for outstation participants only.

For projects/initiatives that are developed as an outcome of the 4-day forum, UNESCO and TYPF will make available small grants to support collective youth leadership and shall also provide mentoring and support in the development, implementation and assessment of these initiatives. Participants who are selected for the forum must be willing to conceptualize and design initiatives that incorporate the outcome of the learning’s of the forum.

For more details, please email The deadline for submitting applications is September 18, 2009. Email to get a copy of the application.

Please do help us spread word!

Thursday, 20 August, 2009

Youth Statement to Governments at ICAAP

In the last two days, over 150 young people ranged from 17 to 35 years, representing over 20 countries, came together in solidarity. The youth group at the second largest AIDS forum in the world, the 9th ICAAP, drafted a collective commitment to increase young people’s stake in programmes and policy processes that impact their lives and their rights.

As youth from Brunei, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Japan, China, Philippines, Brazil, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, Burma, Malaysia, Samoa, Lao, Papua New Guinea and South Korea, this commitment we make, is deeply personal. It is to achieve meaningful youth participation by developing strong adult peer partnerships, increase funding and capacity building for youth led and youth serving initiatives, mainstream human rights in the HIV and AIDS response for all young people, recognize and affirm young people’s sexual reproductive health and rights and eliminate stigma and discrimination amongst young people.

And one wonders, what exactly does that mean? As a 24 year old who has been part of this incredibly diverse forum, there is a question that repeatedly comes up in all of our communities. Young people ask about it, in confusion. Parents ask about it, worried. Teachers and Schools wonder what to do with it, communities discuss it, in secret and our governments are still grappling with developing a comprehensive framework to implement it.

Why is sexuality so problematic?

Why as society, are we so scared to address any kind of sexuality education or rights cohesively? What stops us from giving young people complete rather than half baked information that is critical and life saving and that can protect them from disease, empowers them to be informed individuals and that teach them to be respectful to their own needs and desires and to be respectful towards the rights of others as well?

Why is there in all of our countries, this huge gap between what’s happening in our lives and how empowered young people are, to be able to address these issues within their own societies?

Sexuality Education is about young people’s right to know. The arguments based on cohesive Sexuality Education being against our cultural and moral values are invalid and do not justify denying young people the information and skills they need and are entitled to. Exhaustive research studies show that implementing comprehensive sexuality education does not lead to an increase in early sexual activity.

Majority of the awareness work we do around the prevention of HIV/AIDS isn’t nearly half as effective as it should have been, because there is this underlying silence that no one will address. And as governments, as leaders, you cannot look away from the fact that young people are contracting HIV every day because they do not have the knowledge and tools to protect themselves. When you take the so called ‘safer route’ and substitute conversations about recognizing multiple sexuality and gender identities, staying healthy and protecting oneself from STI’s and feeling comfortable with one’s own body with conversations instead, about promoting self control and abstinence, you destroy any open space or possibility for conversation between young people and their families and communities.

No religion or society in the world, wants its young people to contract STDs, wants its young women to die in early childbirth or see violating inequalities between men and women. Comprehensive Sexuality Education is a framework that addresses each of these issues. It is not just about how to have sex, but rather about good quality school based sexuality, relationship and HIV education that increases the age of sexual debut and has positive effects on the risk of STIs and unintended pregnancies and attitudes towards people living with HIV.

It is also not automatically covered under the ambit of Reproductive Heath. When we replace curriculums on sexuality education and call them population control, family and life planning, health education, we need to ensure that we are still addressing sexuality as a basic component of human nature, that needs to be integrated in a larger framework of human rights.

Young people from Asia and the Pacific commonly identified various gaps and highlighted best practices present in how comprehensive sexuality education was being addressed in their country, some of which I’m sharing with you today:

· Many young people at this forum have highlighted the problems faced with having decentralized governments. There needs to be a standardized approach taken to implement comprehensive sexuality education. Central governments need to be able to dialogue clearer with state governments or provinces, to lobby for a standardized, comprehensive approach that is made accessible not just in government schools, but to out of school youth and those in private and faith based institutions as well.

· We believe that the approaches the ministry of education and ministry of health in each country implement could be aligned to ensure a more effective outcome, making schools a safe space for such conversation.

· We also believe that UN organizations in each country can play a key role in ensuring that this happens, because they have access to spaces of influence with governments that as young people, we do not.

· The importance and need of explaining to young people, condom use as well as negotiating the same was flagged as critical. Young people from Malaysia and India specifically felt that this was lacking in the approach that their governments implemented.

· Youth from Pakistan, Malaysia, Papua New Gunea, Indonesia, Burma, Bangladesh and India felt strongly that comprehensive sexuality education is only effective if the form by which it is taught is without shame or embarassment and that currently in their countries, a larger focus needs to be made on implementing peer education services, as this makes the information contextualization easier and more age appropriate.

· They also felt strongly that teachers implementing curriculums need to be trained. The Brazilian Government partnership with civil society organizations who have the capacity and infrastructure to be able to do this was a best practise highlighted. We believe that civil society organizations and peer education has greater potential to be able to correctly implement community specific comprehensive sexuality education and partnerships should be encouraged by governments in asia and the pacific. Young people from China and Japan endorsed the need for this strongly.

· Young People from Pakistan feel that the lack of a specific curriculum in sexuality education in Pakistan has led to limited information being made accessible in certain provinces of the country. A study by a recent NGO in the country revealed that sex education being conducted was not age appropriate, it was only in class 12 that many male students are taught anatomy and that often, frogs reproductive systems are used to explain human biology and sexuality.

· A greater effort needs to be made to dialogue with the positive power of faith and religion, as most young people pointed out that religious texts such as the Holy Quran have clear passages that advocate for recognizing women’s rights as well as reproductive health. However, it is often in the interpretation of these texts and a lack of community understanding on interpreting religious beliefs that biases step in. In Bangladesh, Imams are trained and in Brunei, christian priests have now been trained to address the HIV reponse.

· Many young people feel that counseling and testing services are not comprehensive in their countries, services are not affordable and healthcare professionals are judgemental and stigmatize often the services they are offering. In Papa New Guniea, youth pointed out that there is an understanding of the approach that needs to be taken, but simply a lack in implementing youth friendly services and an educational curriculum.

· Youth from Indonesia pointed out that comprehensive sexuality education is seen as an extra curricular activity and is not compulsory learning. We strongly feel that comprehensive sexuality education should be made age appropriate and mandatory for all young people.

· Moreover we are absolutely sure, that a pure abstinence based approach does not work, as it discourages, embarasses and stimgatizes young people from asking honest, open and relevant questions. A sex positive approach that mainstreams sexuality as part of human rights to HIV is needed. The recent move by US President Obama to advocate for age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education and replace abstinence only education is testament to this. Youth from Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Malayasia, Singapore, Brunei, Pakistan, Samoa and South Kora felt that this was a critical factor and were unable to communicate the same to their governments effectively.

· Youth from India highlighted the need to involve young people in reviewing and developing effective models to implement comprehensive sexuality education curriculai. We also feel that young people are aware of the cultural sensitivities in their countries and are at times, better placed to develop approaches that are comprehensive yet practical and senstitive to the needs of the community that they will be used in.

It was clear that all 150 young people feel that in each of their countries, there needs to be a significant increase in recgonizing diverse gender and sexual identities and addressing gender equity, both in their respective country’s legal and societal frameworks. We believe that you can pretend that an issue doesn’t exist in society and refuse to address it, but if you overlook entire communities of people and their fundamental right to express their own identity, you will only fuel anger. Governments weaken themselves when they do this and they are less respected by their own citizens. As youth, we need to see an increase of positive role models in governments.

Sexuality Education is guided by the principle, that by empowering young people and giving them a safe space in society where they can ask questions, you are investing in develop a very critical human resource that builds the future and promise of any country. And to our minds, that’s exactly why we are we need to support implementing CSE. We believe these issues are key to empowering young people to protect themselves and that if you give young people their right to information, skills and services and that if you trust rather than judge who you think they are, young people can negotiate high-risk situations more effectively and reduce their vulnerability to a range of issues, specifically, violence, HIV and substance abuse.

We have been working for the past 5 months, through E consultations, skill building sessions, advocacy training to now at ICAAP, developing a special youth corner that hosts an adult and young people commitment desk. This commitment desk is testament to the fact that as young people, we will hold you, leaders, decision makers and governments, accountable to working with us. We hope you will raise the bar by making a commitment that highlights how our governments and ministries believe in investing in young people’s future and their rights and showcase best practices in how we can work together.

A comprehensive sexuality education framework has many benefits. It improves maternal health, integrating HIV and STI prevention, reducing unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, encourages democracy through building critical thinking skills and promotes gender equality by empowering young people and involving young men and boys. Our call to you is to redefine the possibility and potential of how we see and work with young people in our societies.

A participative, affordable, youth friendly, well-implemented comprehensive sexuality education framework is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. In this century, with poverty, HIV, climate change and global recession becoming a deadly reality, you cannot walk away. It is unforgivable, inexcusable and inhumane. As decision makers and political leaders, we need you to choose people over politics and development over silence.

As the youth forum from ICAAP, we believe in the positive power of what young people and decision makers can do, if they work together. We hope we can count on you, in the most meaningful way possible, to lead the change we need to see.

Ishita Chaudhry

On behalf of the Youth Forum, Bali Youth Force at the 9th ICAAP

Monday, 10 August, 2009

Youth Statement at 9th ICAAP

Bali Youth Force

Bali Youth Force is an integrated alliance of local and international youth organizations and young people from Asia and the Pacific coming together to collectively advocate for the rights of Young People at the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. It is a united team of a diverse region.

The following recommendations are a compilation of the outcome of a month long online consultation with more than 50 Young people across Asia and the Pacific, as well as the experiences and inputs of over 130 youth delegates at the two day Youth Pre Congress.

1. Achieve meaningful youth participation

All young people have the right to meaningfully participate in programmes and policy making processes that affect their lives. Several international documents such as the UNGASS Declaration of Commitment on HIV and AIDS, Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action, the Beijing Platform for Action as well as the Millennium Development Goals recognize and endorse this. Our governments have committed to implement the provisions in these documents.

Decision-makers must:

· Institutionalize youth-adult partnerships[1] in all local, national and international processes

· Ensure democratic processes for youth participation to have leadership role in developing, implementing and monitoring programmes and policies

· Ensure capacity-building for young people to access and engage effectively with policy processes

2. Strengthen financial commitments for youth-led and youth-serving initiatives

Youth-led organizations and groups have demonstrated a positive impact at international, national and local levels in responding to HIV and AIDS. Governments and donors must:

· Increase long-term funding for youth-led and youth-run initiatives

· Ensure adequate resources for operational and programme costs for sustainability

· Ensure youth access to existing funding mechanisms, making them youth-friendly

3. Mainstream Human Rights in the HIV and AIDS response for ALL young people

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all people have the fundamental right to life, health, livelihood and dignity. These rights need to be respected, protected and fulfilled for all young people, including but not limited to:

· Girls and young women

· Orphans, street children and other vulnerable young people

· Young people who inject or use drugs

· Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer young people

· Young sex workers

· Young people in juvenile homes and prisons

· Young people living or born with HIV

· Young people living with disability

Human Rights Principles must be applied to all components of the HIV response from prevention and testing to treatment, care and support for all young people without discrimination.

4. Fulfill young people’s sexual and reproductive rights

Governments must respect, protect and fulfill young people’s sexual and reproductive rights, including but not limited to:

· The right to comprehensive sexuality education[2] which enables young people to make informed decisions about their lives

· The right to comprehensive and youth-friendly[3] sexual and reproductive health services, especially condoms, contraceptives, safe abortion, emergency contraception, management / treatment for sexually transmitted infections, voluntary counseling and testing for HIV

· The right to express and enjoy their sexuality[4]

5. Eliminate stigma and discrimination against young people (esp. marginalized young people)

Stigma is an obstacle for effective HIV prevention, testing, treatment, care and support for all young people. Universal access cannot be achieved without eliminating stigma and taking affirmative action. Young people living with HIV and other young people from key populations[5] face layered stigma, thus increasing vulnerability. Governments and decision-makers must:

· Develop , enforce and monitor comprehensive anti-discriminatory laws and policies in partnership with communities

· Ensure adequate capacity-building and earmarked funding within all programmes for addressing stigma and discrimination

[1] Youth-adult partnership are those where responsibility is shared with all partners – adults and young people

[2] A rights-based approach to Comprehensive Sexuality Education seeks to equip children and young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values they need to determine and enjoy their sexuality – physically and emotionally, individually and in relationships. (IPPF Framework of Comprehensive Sexuality Education)

[3] Youth friendly service delivery is about providing services based on a comprehensive understanding of what young people in that particular society or community want, rather than being based only on what providers believe they need. (Provide: Strengthening youth-friendly services, IPPF)

[4] Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. (WHO)

[5] Key populations are those where risk and vulnerability converge. HIV epidemics can be limited by concentrating prevention efforts among key populations. The concept of key populations also recognizes that they can play a key role in responding to HIV/AIDS. (A Framework for Priority Linkages, WHO, UNFPA, IPPF & UNAIDS)