The Blog

Hands Up For the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Young People: Time to Listen to What Young People Want

30 years into the HIV and AIDS epidemic, discrimination continues to be one of the most devastating consequences of an HIV diagnosis, and stands in the way of an effective response.

When I got pregnant, people from social service and sometimes the doctor were always asking me embarrassing questions like why I'm not ashamed or how will I feed my baby, and I decided not to go back again. Three months after, I gave up and I went back because I realized that my life and my baby were in danger.

Young women living with HIV, Burundi

Recently, we lost one of our friends ... because the doctors kept ignoring him and failed to pay attention to his condition. In one case, a transgender man was tossed around a private hospital when neither the male nor female waiting areas could accept him. Until a nurse exclaimed, 'Banange, mujje mulabe omusiyazi!' [people, come and see a homosexual!]

Young LGBT person, Uganda

These four police officers raped me without even using a condom and they later left me on the street unconscious and took the money I had got that night and my phone. I did not report them because I felt I would not be helped since it was the police officers who had raped me.

Young sex worker, Uganda

I like a boy, want to marry him, this is my sexuality, but even my brother and sister do not accept my choice. For that reason I can't stay in my family home.

Young Hijra, Bangladesh

March 1st is Zero Discrimination Day.

30 years into the HIV and AIDS epidemic, discrimination continues to be one of the most devastating consequences of an HIV diagnosis, and stands in the way of an effective response. Young people most affected with HIV consistently report experiences of stigma, discrimination and violence that they encounter at all levels: in their homes and communities, within services, and even within laws and policies, which fail to protect their rights. Experiences of shame, judgement and fear make it harder for young people to access the sexual and reproductive services they need and want, and undermine their human rights.

Yet, all over the world, decisions on rights, legal frameworks and services are made for young people, not by young people. This leads to young people lacking the knowledge, information or resources to maintain their sexual health, creates barriers to accessing services, and can lead to the violation of their rights. This is particularly true for young people most affected by HIV, including young women and men living with HIV, young men who have sex with men, young people who do sex work, young people who use drugs, and young transgender people,

Through ATHENA, I work on Link Up, a project designed to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of more than one million young people in five countries. One of our goals as a policy partner is to ensure that young people themselves are heard and included in shaping services and advocacy messages see this blog for more). Working with GYCA, we led a global consultation involving nearly 1,200 young people living with and affected by HIV, from over all the world to ask them what they want. The consultation created a space for young people to share their voices, visions and priorities about sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV. The results are published in a new report: Visions, voices and priorities of young people.

So, what do young people want?

Meaningfully and effectively involving young people in programming and decision-making. All players/stakeholders in health should prioritize this. Imposing programmes on young people without their say in designing them is old fashioned. It is very important to have the young people's say in the initial stages of any programme you would love to have them be part in implementation. This gives us confidence and more information on the programme and it creates ownership of the project.

Young activist man, Uganda

The young people who participated articulated a clear set of demands to ensure their rights are realised and upheld. And through Link Up we are already beginning to address some of these areas, with young people at the helm. The report also includes case studies about they work young people are leading, in their own words.

Join us on Zero Discrimination Day on Twitter with the #handsupfor hashtag to share the report and the demands of young people. Will you put your #handsupfor listening to young people?