From October 13-16th 2011 the Jan Sobieski hotel in Warsaw, Poland, became home to some of Europe’s most active and outspoken youth activists to discuss the international state of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) from youth perspectives. I’m an active member of the Student Stop AIDS Campaign coordinated by Restless Development and attended on the organisation’s behalf.
The EuroNGOs conference “Future Perspectives on Development Cooperation - Putting SRHR on the Right Track” kicked off four days of a progressive - and occasionally heated - meeting of 25 young people and activists from every corner of the continent. The event featured speakers from organisations as diverse as IPPF, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Catholics for Choice. Members of Choice for Youth and Sexuality facilitated breakout sessions that ensured youth voices were heard by the policy makers.
The real fun, however, started on Friday afternoon when the main conference gave way to the YouAct hosted youth workshop. With the formality of the conference replaced by the vibrant and energetic discussions of the youth-only participants the room was quickly filled with voices of those eager to compare national experiences and learn from the wide knowledge base present.
Over the course of the following three days the youth participants engaged with a variety of SRHR issues- including the promotion of rights for sex workers; the importance of comprehensive sexuality education; the position of abortion laws internationally; and how to deal with opposition activists in day-to-day advocacy work. Sessions ranged from power point presentations to the more energetic 'values continuum', timelining and 'organisational speed-dating'.
The event successfully promoted network building between youth movements across a variety of development sectors. Representing Restless Development, I spoke about our own projects whilst learning of opportunities for collaboration and development. More than anything the conference and workshop highlighted the potential of youth to make real change and - more so than ever before- the genuine commitment within the sector to include youth actors meaningfully in the process of promoting and improving the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all.
by Rebecca McDowell (Students Stop AIDS Member)