This week, government officials from Europe and Central Asia, academics, activists, and representatives from the private sector gathered in Istanbul to review the region’s progress on meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe convened the two-day conference as an opportunity for governments to set their priorities for new sustainable development goals after the MDGs expire in 2015.
Youth advocates came to Istanbul to lobby their governments for greater transparency, sexual rights, economic justice, action against climate change, and perhaps most importantly, to recognize young people as stakeholders in the Post-2015 process.
Despite heavy opposition from some of the conference participants, the young activists took the floor with passionate and explicit demands for their rights.
In their official statement, they challenged governments to have courage and champion the “controversial” issues that lie at the root of inequalities, declaring:
Denying us our sexual and reproductive rights puts our lives at risk and violates our bodily autonomy. Responding to this requires you to have the courage to recognize our rights to pleasure, freely express our diverse sexualities, access safe and legal abortion services, contraception, and comprehensive sexuality education and live free from all forms of stigma, discrimination and violence.
Youth advocates also articulated their concerns about the use of culture and religion to justify violations of sexual and reproductive rights.