Fighting to make their voices heard: Young people travel to APCRHSHR

The 5th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSHR) takes place this week in Beijing, China.

Youth activists between the ages of 16-24 are traveling from countries as far and wide as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand to make their voices heard and to fight for greater youth participation at the conference and on the international stage. Not even severe landslides and flooding from recent typhoons in their countries have been able to stop them from making the trip. Throughout last week, over emails and twitter, many youth activists celebrated as they got their visas approved by the Chinese government.

As stated in IWHC’s high-level analysis of this year’s 42nd Session of the Commission on Population and Development last March, this year’s agreement went far and wide in bolstering the rights of young people and made a new commitment to “comprehensive education on sexuality and gender equality,” access to male and female condoms, and reproductive health services for adolescents without restrictive language on culture, religion, or parental rights.

Despite such encouraging signs, ensuring meaningful youth participation in policy-making still remains a fight for youth advocates. For our youth activists organizing youth at APCRSHR, the fight leading up to the conference has been difficult.

For instance, in the final days leading up to the conference, a core group of youth leaders across the region developed a draft youth statement through an online consultation. The working group presented this draft statement to all the young people present at APCRSHR on the Youth Day on October 17, the day before the conference started.

However, at the same time, an alternate “youth” statement written by adults, without any direct feedback from young people was posted on the APCSHR website. This statement was written by international steering committee members, with an eye to impressing high-level Chinese statesmen who will be at the conference, falsely positioned itself as the youth statement.

It is both striking and painfully obvious how different this statement is in tone and content from the statement developed by over 130 youth at the recent ICAAP. The ICAAP youth statement declared the rights of young people to health services, information and participation and the responsibilities of governments to uphold those rights , while the statement posted by APCRSHR steering committee members talked about young people’s responsibilities to their own governments
To say the least, this framing is mismatched. Youth advocates, who have been fighting and advocating on these issues for years, are more than aware of their responsibilities. The problem, as evidenced in this case, remains that many policy-makers choose decorative participation, over real youth participation.

Our youth allies are not giving up so easily and have contacted funders of the conference, including IPPF, UNFPA and MacArthur Foundation to be able to create and proclaim their own statement. We will keep you posted.

Khushbu Srivastava is the Program Officer for Asia at the International Women’s Health Coalition. Read her bio here.



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