We are happy to share our second issue of the CSE Talks with.... this time with an youth advocate from Poland. She has more than 10 years of experience working in the SRHR issues and has been involved in varius youth organizations and network. Here is the interview:
Who is Anna?
That’s a very good question! I’m still discovering who I am, but we can give it a try and summarise what I’ve learnt so far…
I’ve graduated from Medical School at the Medical University of Silesia in Katowice and hold a MSc in Physiotherapy from Opole University of Technology. For the last decade I worked in the areas of youth leadership and empowerment, gender equality, human rights, and access to health services and treatment for young people from key affected populations through youth-led and youth-centred organizations. I had a privilege to be part of many amazing and strong networks (Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, Women Deliver Young Leaders Programme, Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations) that taught me to focus on community-driven initiatives identifying existing gaps in the services, exploring interlinkages between different sectors, and addressing stigma. Recently, I was advocating for the Youth issues during the 62nd session of the of the UN Commission on the Status of Women and at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2018.
On everyday basis, however, I work as a junior doctor at the General Psychiatry Unit in the Multidisciplinary District Hospital in Tarnowskie Góry, and I’m a PhD Candidate at the Medical University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland, conducting research in the sexology field. At the moment my main aim is to examine deeper relations between mental health & SRHR in adolescents & young adults population. In recognition of my work I was awarded the European Psychiatric Association’s Early Career Psychiatrists Scholarship in 2017.
All in all, I would define myself as a feminist, public health researcher, human rights defender, and mental health advocate.
Describe yourself in 3 words
Honest, curious, spontaneous!
How have you become youth advocate for SRHR?
I must admit that it was a long way since my very first activities in the field of the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and to be completely honest, I feel like I’m still learning how to be an advocate even though I’m already transitioning from the youth movement after a decade of intense work. Of course, I do remember very well my first, small projects at university, mostly in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention and testing, but have I ever thought organizing movie screenings for World AIDS Day that one day I’ll be talking on the panel on meaningful youth participation during AIDS2016 Conference? I don’t think so. I’m deeply convinced that some things may look like they happen by accident, but only intentionally challenging yourself and stepping out from the comfort zone you can understand whether advocacy is the right path for you. Also, because from the very beginning I was strongly tied with my local community, I always felt that I’m only a carrier of verbalized needs of my peers, sharing them with decision makers on variety of levels.
Why SRHR are important.
Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) are not important. SRHR are vital for us. They’re fundamental, as all Human Rights, to sustain a nourishing life and ensure equal opportunities to grow into one’s full potential.
It’s absolutely stunning that we’re in XXI century a.k.a. we discovered penicillin, landed on the moon, we know how to transplant organs, we can go around the globe in less than 80 hours, but questions why people should be free to decide on their own body and, consequently, life and health, are still being asked… Reproductive Health and Rights are political battlegrounds, full of mines, and those who speak loudly about the justice are stigmatized and silenced.
Do you think young people deserve equal access to Sexuality Education and Why?
Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is one of the keys to empower young people and, at the same time, the only way to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that I believe in. There is a growing number of published research that clearly show that CSE programs lead directly not only to the reduction of STIs, HIV, unintended pregnancy, but also to better understanding of sexual and reproductive rights and- even broader- human rights, as well as to increased knowledge on sexual health in general. We should make a priority from introduction of CSE programs to engage children and adolescents in discussion on gender norms, as well as inclusivity, and to teach them to critically reflect on surrounding world. Only being respectful to young people’s capacities to access information and make conscious choices regarding their own lives we can ensure their healthy development. Unfortunately, in many countries, CSE is still in a pilot form, not being scaled up properly, which leads directly to inequities that benefit some regions or schools while leaving others neglected. I believe that this is the main obstacle when discussing inability to reach physical and mental well-being of children and young people. CSE can address all these issues in a holistic, non-discriminatory manner, and with respect for the diversity, but there must a will from decision- makers to finally listen to us.
If you can become a powerful decision maker at global level, what would be the things you would do and change to promote Human Rights?
I would like everyone to understand that Human Rights are not privileges and should never be discussed in this way.
What we need in order to achieve the 2030 Development Agenda and the SDGs?
I can’t imagine achieving the 2030 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) without ensuring meaningful youth participation… and by saying this I want to stress that engaging youth doesn’t mean providing opportunities for participation by adding additional chair and name to the discussion panel. The thrill of sitting next to the BIG NAME wears off after few days and then we’re left with nothing except fancy photos uploaded on social media… This is not the reason why we’re doing the work we do, often without proper remuneration. We do it because we really care! Tokenism is detrimental to any involvement. What I really want to see is creating new structures and procedures mirroring skills, needs and realities of young people. I would really like to make sure that we’re not only involved at all levels of decision-making, but our voice is weighted as others. Also, providing ‘youth perspective’ in any space doesn’t mean representing all young people globally… I really hope that active search for the most knowledgeable youth representatives for particular topics would soon become a rule instead of inviting the same faces of - absolutely exceptional- young people, but whose presence is limiting perspective and blocking true voices from the local communities from being heard. It’s not about having a mute young person at the table, it’s about reaching out and creating a space that would allow everyone to share their opinion. I believe that this attitude doesn’t require a full-time revolution, but definitely a shift in power- it’s time to wake up, question our position, realize our privileges and change the structures we’ve since last century. By everyone.
Your key message to the world J
I want to live in the world of knowledge and freedom in which all people live their own lives supported and valued. I want to live in the world in which all my sexual and reproductive rights are not a topic for political fights, but my everyday routine that belongs to me and me only.