The Journey of 1,000 Miles Starts with the First Step

The last couple of days of the ICPD Global Youth Forum in Bali, Indonesia, have seen a flurry of around-the-clock activity by nearly 1,000 young people, adult allies, NGO representatives, academics, government officials, and other stakeholders from around the world. Their hard work is already paying off.

Yesterday, forum participants developed a number of “Staying Healthy” recommendations to ensure that governments prioritize programs that empower vulnerable young populations, including young women and adolescent girls, LGBTQI individuals, persons with disabilities, and young people living with HIV and AIDS. These recommendations are progressive, measurable, and based on evidence.

The journey has not always been easy. A small, but vocal, opposition made up of non-youth participants have attempted to intimidate and censor young people during this forum. Many people could easily have been intimidated into silence by this group, but thankfully the youth at the Global Forum refused to back down. There is too much at stake.

The “Staying Healthy” recommendations were developed as part of a consultative process following a lively plenary. In his speech, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin encouraged young people to continue questioning the status quo, stating that young people are not only the present but the future. He discussed a number of issues impacting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people, including meaningful participation, gender equality, ending early and forced marriage, unintended pregnancy, maternal mortality, and the needs of both married and unmarried adolescents. Osotimehin described the process of meeting the sexual and reproductive health and human rights of young people as “A journey of 1,000 miles [that] starts with the first step.”

Indonesian Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi also spoke at the plenary and was met with rousing applause when she stated that, “We have the responsibility to fulfill and promote the health and human rights of young people,” that, “Young people need to be empowered in all aspects of their life,” and that, “It is a fundamental human right of adolescents and youth to access comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education and services.” In Indonesia, there are more than 65 million young people aged between 15 and 24 years old and only 21 percent of them have comprehensive knowledge regarding HIV/AIDS. Sexual transmission of HIV accounts for the vast proportion of new HIV infections among young people and unmarried girls cannot access contraception. Despite these facts, Mboi stated she believes that “The government has an obligation to provide education and services on sexual and reproductive health that are equitable, affordable, and accessible.” For the tens of millions of Indonesian young people in need of information, services, and protection of their human rights, we are optimistic when she says that “You can count on me, I won’t let you down.”

I am thrilled that the final consolidated “Staying Healthy” recommendations articulate a clear, comprehensive, and human-rights based vision as to where the global community needs to focus attention and resources to secure the health and human rights of all young people, and in particular the most marginalized and vulnerable which include adolescent girls and LGBTQI individuals.

These young forum participants deserve our applause for remaining steadfast that this must remain a youth-led and youth-driven process. They stood strong as did UNFPA, which made it clear in various ways that this is indeed intended to be a youth-led and youth-driven process. Displeased with the final consensus recommendations consolidated from the 15 Staying Healthy breakout sessions, the vocal minority of non-youth unconstructively confronted forum participants, after the recommendations were presented during the plenary. During my own breakout session, this same minority consistently opposed suggestions concerning individual rights, and access to safe abortion and contraception.

In contrast to this small group, many other government and non-youth forum participants from around the world stood out as great allies to the youth participants in support of this set of recommendations. The final “Staying Healthy” recommendations will be released as part of a consolidated set of recommendations including the other forum themes: “Decent Work,” “Sexuality, Family and Rights,” “Education,” and “Leadership and Meaningful Participation.” We at the International Women’s Health Coalition look forward to sharing the final recommendations with you when they are released. Stay tuned!

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