Last week, I had the opportunity to be part of the delegation at the International AIDS Conference held in Vienna. Early in the week I got to participate in an intergenerational dialogue, organized by the International Women’s Health Coalition. A couple of important questions were raised by one of the established women leaders there, but because of the dynamics of the dialogue they were left unanswered.
Two questions that have stuck with me were, to paraphrase, “Why are young people asking for spaces to be heard? Why is it so important that youth is involved in the HIV response and in the women’s movement?”
I have been thinking about them the whole week, mainly because I didn’t have an easy answer. In this post I am going to try to elaborate a little bit about the issues that these questions brought up for me.
I would like to begin with the feeling that started from the Vienna YouthForce Pre-Conference, held on July 16th. I’m starting to feel too old to be part of the youth movement, and this was actually my last chance to be part of the youth pre-conference since it’s meant for youth up to 26 years old only. And if I’m not part of the youth movement anymore, then where should I be?
At the youth pre-conference the organizers decided that the main 3 topics that we should address during the conference should be: human rights, health resources, and harm reduction (also known as “the 3H”).
Even though I think those issues are important and there should be people advocating for them, I really don’t think that those are my strongest or most deeply felt topics. My passion is sexuality, and that is why I advocate for sexual and reproductive rights and health.
Once the conference started on July 18th, I was participating in both youth and women’s activities. Sadly, I realized that the youth activities were only about youth participation, and not about the tackling issues that the conference addresses from a youth perspective. It was weird to feel that I was only worthy for being youth and that’s it, that there was nothing I or other youth organizers could say in order to improve, enhance, or push forward the agenda on HIV response. Youth are supposed to be there and participate, but to do what? To help? To decorate? To be festive?
During the week of the conference I had the opportunity to connect with some other emerging female leaders that felt the same way about being too old for the youth movement but also knowing that we still don’t have a space in the movement that fit us perfectly. So I felt supported somehow, maybe just by knowing that I’m not the only one.
The whole week I carried two t-shirts in my bag, one for the Vienna YouthForce and the one for the Women’s Rights movement. I believe that we need to have a real integration strategy for the HIV response that could include all of us, so then we work on the issues we are really passionate about, instead of spending most of our time defending our identities.
I don’t want to be heard just because I’m a young woman. I want to be heard because I have been working for 11 years on the sexual and reproductive rights and health agenda and the HIV response, because I hear on daily basis what women need and how their rights are being neglected, because I want to make this world safer place for women all over the world, and because I think that I can help on the sustainability of the movement.