The World Youth Conference was organized by Mexico’s government at the end of August in León to talk about the Global Agenda for Development from a youth perspective, or at least that was what organizers said.
From the beginning we (Mexican colleagues working on sexual and reproductive rights and health) could see that it was dangerous for our work that the Mexican government was the lead on this conference, as they are not exactly youth friendly.
In fact, in Mexico, youth has often been the target for criminalization and rights violations. For example, just a month before the conference, the women’s minister from Guanajuato State said that people with tattoos and/or piercings had a lack of moral values. And last year, they wanted to criminalize public French-kissing, because some of them considered it to be obscene.
So it might be expected that opposition to SRRH at the conference was strong. During the first 4 days of the conference anti-abortion rights groups such as the World Youth Alliance held several public demonstrations at the front of the conference venue, inside the conference venue, and mostly wherever they wanted. They were aggressive and pushy, and even shouted at you if you didn’t agree with them or took a flyer from them.
To counter this, I co-organized the five demonstrations that Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights caucus held, which were completely peaceful, non-confrontational, and some of them even silent. However, security immediately got our pictures and started following us anywhere, even to the restroom.
They saw we all had red t-shirts with our message, so they used their walkie talkies to alert other security guards and prevent us from entering a variety of spaces.
To protect ourselves, we needed to beware the venue’s security, take off our red shirts, mix with big groups, and never be alone.
In short, at the León conference, it felt like everybody was against us. We felt insecure and in an atmosphere where our work wasn’t respected. Thus, the experience only reinforced for me the urgent need to create a space where youth participation on the international stage is valued and encouraged.