Once upon a time a World Festival on Youth and Students took place in Sochi, Russian Federation (14-21 of October, to be precise!).
A group of young people, who do advocacy for sexual and reproductive health and rights at local, national and international level came together in Sochi to share, discuss and empower their peers on issues connected to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), youth participation and accountability. These youth advocates came from (Bulgaria, Tajikistan, South Africa, India, United Kingdom, Ukraine) full of energy and amazing potential to spread out their success and achievements as well as to share their challenges from implementing youth advocacy at various levels.
But before sharing their stories, let’s give a bit of general overview on the Festival itself. The number of participants was above 30 000 people from 186 countries. The Festival aimed to serve as platform for bringing together young people and students to exchange views and ideas and promote peace and sustainability across the globe. The entire programme of the Festival was quite interactive and included various activities – cultural, sports but also discussions on different themes. One of the main section of the Discussion Programme was titled “Health and Ecology” and brought together issues linked with health, wellbeing, fulfillment, and climate change.
As part of the Section “Health and Ecology” the youth advocates took part in two panel discussions focused on CSE, HIV and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The first panel was titled “Education for Development” and brought together both young people and experts in the field of education for sustainable development and access to comprehensive sexuality education. The first part was dedicated to youth advocates who shared their vision on how we should work in order to ensure universal access to CSE among youth. Sharaf Boborakhimov (Tajikistan, Y-PEER) and highlighted the importance of peer education as a way to implement CSE among youth including young key populations. He highlighted that this approach has been quite successful in the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, especially when there is a methodology put in place. Hayley Gleeson (UK, International Planned Parenthood Association) talked about effective youth-led advocacy at national and local level through the youth campaign called ACT!2030, implemented in 12 countries around the world.
She mentioned that although these projects were implemented in various settings, in terms of cultural and political background, they all focused on ensuring access to CSE among youth. She gave two successful examples: the 1st one is from Bulgaria, where the youth SRHR alliance managed to lobby with the government and ensured changes in the Law on Education and now there is a text refereeing to mandatory access to CSE in school. The 2nd example is from Jamaica where the Ministry of Education invited youth experts to support the drafting of standards for CSE implementation in School.
Peter Mladenov (Bulgaria, Comprehensive Sexuality Education Global Advocacy Hub) highlighted the importance of CSE and its positive impact on young people personal development. He also talked for the importance of bringing innovation when it comes to youth led advocacy and presented the Global Hub Comprehensive Sexuality Education Advocacy which is the first special online platform for CSE related advocacy issues for youth and experts (www.advocates4cse.com). The platform is combining various elements that supports building an effective advocacy on SRHR and CSE online as well as access to successful stores and data from various countries.
The panel ended with interventions from Ilya Zhukov (UNFPA) who presented the updated UN Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education and highlighted the significant role that youth advocates played in developing process. He also highlighted that the most importance thing when it comes to CSE is not just the title but the content and the methodology of implementation in order to ensure a holistic approach and better impact afterwards.
Lena Kyrishina (UNAIDS) presented the efforts of UNAIDS towards ending AIDS by 2030 and especially the work they are doing with youth organizations in the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The panel discussion ended with questions from the audience which enable very interactive discussion with the panelists on various topics linked to CSE.
The second panel discussion where youth advocates took part was titled “Ending AIDS by 2030”. The panel aimed to provide a platform for sharing and discussion common efforts towards prevention of HIV and AIDS by youth-led and youth-driven advocacy activities. The session was moderated by Peter Mladenov (Bulgaria, CSE Advocacy Hub) and the panelists were youth advocates and experts from UNAIDS and UNFPA. In the first part of the panel, Ruben Pages (UNAIDS) highlighted the tremendous efforts by the international community towards ending AIDS, however he highlighted that still there some issues and challenges that need to be overcome, especially when it comes to young key populations. Some of the issues he mentioned was the presence of stigma and discrimination, the data availability, and that further efforts linked to the involvement of adolescents.
Yana Vantchuk (Ukraine, Teenergizer) as adolescent girl, aged 18 she shared her personal experience of doing advocacy for young people living with HIV at local and national level and highlighted the importance of having better access to youth-friendly services.
Ilya Zhukov (UNFPA) presented some examples of meaningful youth involvement at the highest level. He reminded of a recent story where young people from indigenous community had a strategic meeting, supported by UNFPA and established an international Youth Council of Indigenous Youth on SRHR.
Hayley Gleeson (UK, IPPF) presented a perspective of what is missing to youth organizations to be even stronger in their work towards ending AIDS by 2030. The discussion continued in a ‘talk show’ format with three youth leaders from Bulgaria (Yana Mladenova), India (Abhinav Singh) and South Africa (Levi Singh) who presented their work at local and national level on advancing the youth and adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights. The discussion ended with comments and interventions from the audience. As an outstanding one was the one made by a representative from the National Center of HIV Prevention in Russia who shared that during the Festival young people have access to free and anonymous HIV testing services.
Nevertheless, the story of the youth activist included also various exciting meetings and activities. They met with the UNSG’s Envoy on Youth where they discussed Envoy’s priorities and highlighted the importance of putting youth’s SRHR as the table of political discussions. In addition, they managed to have a conversation with Alanna Armitage(UNFPA, Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia) andVinay Saldanha (UNAIDS, Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia).
Since innovation and reaching out to other young people is crucial, there was a shooting of some video interviews that are available the YouTube channel YOUthIn (https://goo.gl/awXYb5).
However, these are just the highlight of amazing adventure of the youth advocates throughout the World Youth Festival of Youth and Students!