Challenges and opportunities when advocating for young people’s SRHR
One of the pillars of CHOICE is our International Advocacy program. The purpose of this program is to lobby for the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of young people worldwide. We train other youth-led organizations in Africa and Asia to build their advocacy skills and we practice our own on a global level. Our main focus is on international United Nations (UN) processes in New York and Geneva, but we have recently also been more active in Europe.
You can find more information about our International Advocacy work here. For now we want to give you an insight into the opportunities and challenges we face when doing advocacy work.
Advocating, or lobbying, is not always easy, especially when you are part of a youth-led organization that focuses on SRHR. New youth advocates sometimes feel overwhelmed when trying to comprehend and keep up with the developments concerning the international processes at the UN that we are engaged in. Some also feel intimidated when working with influential people at UN events. Furthermore, it can also be very frustrating and disheartening for youth advocates that we cannot always immediately see the results of our advocacy work. Because of the bureaucratic structure of the UN and a general lack of funding, advocacy is a slow and intensive process.
At the international level, we also encounter a lot of resistance by conservative and misogynist parties towards SRHR advocacy. Because of recent developments in the USA and throughout Europe (e.g. the election of Trump & the growing support for right-wing politicians in Europe), we actually experience a rise in conservative voices who are arguing for increasing restrictions to women’s reproductive health such as access to contraceptives and abortion services. This resistance from conservative governments and parties can be a difficult experience for youth advocates, some of them describe it as an emotional blow.
Another challenge is the limited space for civil society to voice its opinion during UN events. That’s why it’s so important for CHOICE to be in contact with our country’s representative to the UN. However, experience shows that it remains difficult for young persons to be taken seriously in these processes. We continuously have to show our added value and claim our own space for advocacy. Luckily CHOICE, through our years of experience and networking, is able to be present at most international processes related to young people’s SRHR. But many young people whose sexual rights are often ignored or denied still face huge barriers in communicating their sexual health realities to governments or other policymakers.
But do not despair! Even though advocating for young people’s SRHR holds many challenges, we also encounter many opportunities! We have the amazing opportunity to work at the highest diplomatic level in the world, at the UN. We learn about international processes, gain and deepen our advocacy skills, have the opportunity to build worldwide networks, increase our strategic thinking and practice our skills in public speaking.
And even though progress is slow, we truly do get the chance to make an impact at the events that we are attending. We provide input on statements and are sometimes asked to deliver these statements on behalf of civil society. You can watch some CHOICErs delivering statements here, here and here. We also make suggestions on important documents and drafts, adding progressive language, and we have many opportunities to work together with other motivated youth-led organizations. Our youth advocates find it extremely inspiring to meet with so many likeminded people from all over the world and fight for what we believe in. It motivates us to keep going even when it seems like new conservative voices and policies that limit people’s rights are being developed every day.
Additionally, CHOICE brings together youth advocates from our partner organizations in Africa and Asia at the global level, strengthening the presence of youth advocates in international advocacy arenas and challenging conservative structures. Together we provide the still often overlooked youth perspective and call on greater governmental and institutional accountability to meaningfully engage young people to influence and contribute to country positions at international agreements.
It is our core belief that when young people worldwide raise their voices and support each other, we can truly make a difference. This is what inspires us to work harder every day to advocate for young people’s SRHR. The road ahead may still be long, but we surely have the power, the purpose and the passion to keep going!