Reflections from ICFP: “Nothing For Us Without Us!”
A volcanic eruption may have prevented young leaders from convening the International Conference on Family Planning in November 2015. But it didn’t stop us from talking about the importance of youth voices on this topic! In January 2016, more than 300 young people and over 3,000 experts and leaders in the field gathered in Bali, Indonesia for the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP). The conference provided an excellent opportunity for participants to expand family planning discussions towards ensuring universal access for all. Beyond that, it presented an opportunity for young people to advocate for their rights and needs with a diverse group of decision makers and leaders.
Young people were able to make a real contribution at ICFP; were were given opportunities to provide input and to propose our ideas for consideration. Meaningful participation is about building real partnerships between stakeholders on the basis of mutual respect and trust. I feel that we can proudly say that meaningful youth participation was achieved in this conference through the numerous roles that young people have filled, including plenary speakers, panelists, moderators, and many more.
With 1.8 billion young people in the world between the ages of 10 and 24, it is no surprise that a key focus of ICFP has been on reaching young people and meeting their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) needs. Plenaries, panels, and oral presentations have focused on how to reach young people, the needs of young people, and how to implement programs focused on young people. What has been less visible is the role young people can play as leaders and advocates for their own SRHR.
During ICFP, I was fortunate to have been a part of an interactive dialogue about youth leadership for SRHR in which I spoke alongside four of my fellow Women Deliver Young Leaders. It was the first time that I saw a panel of only young people and solely focused on youth leadership for SRHR change. We were given the opportunity to have our stories and voices heard. We were given the space to express ourselves and make a real contribution to the conference. Now, this is what meaningful youth participation is all about! Being given the space and support to talk about our passions, what drives our work, and the changes we want to make is how we move from being informed and consulted to being the drivers of change in the health and wellbeing of girls and women worldwide!
ICFP gave me an opportunity to meet so many different people from different fields, all with one purpose and goal: advancing family planning. I had an opportunity to learn and appreciate the different issues affecting young people in the different countries and some were cross-cutting, such as religious and cultural beliefs that hinder young people from accessing FP information and services. One of the major lessons that I learned was that male involvement is a key aspect in achieving gender equality. Men and boys are key stakeholders and should be used as agents of change in empowering families and communities on issues of family planning.
Youth inclusiveness is mandatory in all aspects of family planning projects and programs. From inception through planning, decision making, and implementation, young people are more familiar with and understand issues affecting them more than anyone.
Ahmed Aboushady is a Medical Student at Faculty of Medicine, Alexandria University in Egypt. He is an active member of IFMSA Egypt, serving as the National Coordinator of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Taskforce and as a Local Officer. Ahmed also works in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights and violence against women. Ahmed coordinates projects both at the local and national levels which aim to improve the lives to those with HIV/AIDS and ensure the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS. Ahmed has a keen interest in youth development and leadership. He strives to create an impact through both his work in program coordination and his medical training.
Ana Aguilera is a young public health professional and dual citizen of Mexico and the United States. She is passionate about the intersection between sexual and reproductive health, human rights, and international development. Through her work with Amigos de las Americas, she has helped build the capacity of local young leaders in rural communities, implemented over twenty community development projects, and supervised more than 70 volunteers in Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Guatemala. Additionally, she has worked with the women’s sexual and reproductive health non-profit organizations Ipas and Grounds for Health. Ana has her Bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies from Boston University and a Master’s degree in Global Public Health from the Boston University School of Public Health.
Patrick Segawa is a SRHR advocate, public health practitioner, and social entrepreneur who strives to use information technology to improve the health of his community. He is the Founder and Program Manager of the Public Health Ambassadors Uganda (PHAU) where he works on youth and community empowerment projects. PHAU endeavors to develop working relationships between communities and local leaders in order to secure the prioritization of the health needs of young people. Patrick also conducts health education and promotion activities, including edutainment – an informative performance arts approach to education. He mentors other youth activists in the use of creative and performance arts, such as poetry, narrative dance, and flash mobs, as a means of educating young people about HIV/AIDS, STIs, and unplanned teenage pregnancy.