Big dreams to change the world – happy International Youth Day!

AIDS2018 - Watipa 2Young people are the leaders of today – and of tomorrow. We know that at Watipa, and here is another example in the context of the global response to HIV.

On this International Youth Day, we are calling for meaningful, frequent, and wide engagement of adolescent girls and young women in the strategic development, planning, and delivery of programmes and services aimed at serving them… in lots of areas, including the response to HIV.

Why adolescent girls and young women in particular? Not only do they (we) have big ideas about our health and how we want to change the world, but also because as a group we are among the most vulnerable to acquiring HIV. Global estimates from UNAIDS indicate that young people represent 34% of all new acquisitions, with adolescent girls and young women accounting for most of these.

71181001-721c-4560-ab1d-7a5c4168b533.jpgMeet Aisha Bukenya, a Watipa scholar who is a final year pharmacy student at Kampala International University and as well a passionate youth advocate on gender issues, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and HIV and AIDS and meet Kristen de Graaf, who is the Watipa Executive Officer and an Associate with the ATHENA Initiative. Both Aisha and Kristen attended the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam in July 2018, AIDS 2018. This conference had the highest participation of young people of any conference so far. Collaborative mechanisms for young people to organize and mobilize youth leaders have been linked to the conferences since 2002 like the YouthForce.

Aisha and Kristen had share their reflections and insights here about the experiences of young women at the conference, and their hopes for young women’s leadership in the response to HIV and in changing the world…

Aisha Bukenya, Watipa scholar, UgandaAisha - AIDS2018

I have big dreams to change the world, that is no secret, and I hope to approach this from the healthcare point of view and that is why for me HIV and AIDS is a very essential topic. I was more than glad to be part of the recently concluded International AIDS conference in Amsterdam and I wasn’t just there for myself but also on behalf of all the other young people, especially adolescent girls and young women around the globe.

It was nice to be given a chance to interact with so many different but like-minded people. It was energizing. It was beautiful to hear so many stakeholders speak about the need to pay attention to adolescent girls and young women and it was amazing too to learn about the progress so far made.

It is my sincere hope and desire to see that we are not just given space to speak but to be given the opportunity to lead because we have done that a lot! We need to be given the power to implement our thoughts and ideas and to be able to translate our discussions into realities.

We as young people, have had the role of speakers at meetings and conferences but this never translates into meaningful participation. This has gone on for far too long and it is time we create a new model that represents the youth leadership we have been fighting for.

As a young woman part of the ATHENA Initiative and a UN Women volunteer, I want to see more stakeholders share with us their power, I want to see donors take some more risks with funding youth organisations and to remove unnecessary barriers, I want to see that instead of only speaking roles, we actually do have the power to decide and to act upon our decisions! That is the only way that we will have meaningful youth leadership and the only way that together, we will win this fight against HIV and AIDS come 2030!

Kristen de Graaf, Watipa Executive OffiVersion 2cer, London

In addition to my role with Watipa, I have the privilege to work on projects that engage adolescent girls and young women around pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), HIV prevention and SRHR in Eastern Africa. This body of work included coordinating the Women’s Networking Zone (WNZ) at the conference.

Born out of women’s parallel organizing at the Durban conference in 2000, the WNZ is a community-focused, women led forum that runs parallel to international and regional AIDS conferences. The WNZ is a vibrant and inclusive space to ensure knowledge, expertise and opportunities of these conferences are accessible to and benefit from engagement of women and girls around the globe.

This year’s WNZ programme featured sessions led by young women around Dolutegravir (an antiretroviral for treatment of HIV), self-care and engagement with UNAIDS. In addition to these sessions, an ‘Adolescent Girls and Young Women Power Hour’ was convened every day with a focus on leadership, advocacy and mentorship for young women attending the conference.

For me, the most impactful moments of the conference where the opportunities for young women to engage in a rich and vibrant dialogue on SRHR, meet with leaders in HIV and women’s rights, get updates on HIV research and build advocacy on the issues that matter most to young women. One of these moments was where Gunilla Carlsson, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, lead a session with a group of young women to hear directly from them what their priorities were and to learn from their expertise and experience.

This International Youth Day, my hope is that this model of meaningful engagement and consultation will be replicated in more broadly and frequently so that young people, and young women in particular, can continue to lead with their expertise and lived experience.

Happy International Youth Day! We’re changing the world! #SafeSpaces4Youth



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