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“By the year 2015, there will be three billion people under the age of 25. They are the future…they are also the now”—James D. Wolfensohn, Former President of the World Bank (2003)

Nearly half of the world’s population is under 24 years old, and most young people live in developing countries.  Young people globally face multiple challenges including political instability, rising rates of unemployment, and mounting sexual and reproductive health disparities. However, a growing youth population also means a growing opportunity for change.  Young people are energetic, creative, and are often the leaders of change in their communities, but their voices have been historically missing from major policy and programming dialogues and decisions.  Young people have the potential to transform the social and economic fortunes of their communities, particularly in least-developed countries. Their contributions can enrich and inform policies, programs, and donor decisions. If we are to achieve lasting change in the health and lives of young people, we must engage young people themselves in development decisions. 

 In December, at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Beyond 2014 Global Youth Forum (GYF), hundreds of young people from around the world will meet in Bail to develop global recommendations for policymakers and other stakeholders on health, education, employment and livelihood, families and well-being, and fully inclusive civic participation. In preparation for this event, FHI 360, on behalf of the IYWG, together with the Youth Health and Rights Coalition are hosting a virtual discussion titled, “The Road to Bali: Engaging Young People in Meaningful Ways,” November 14‒15, 2012. During this exciting virtual event, delegates from the Global Youth Forum and international policymakers and donors will moderate a discussion on how best to ensure that young people’s voices and needs are included in international policy, programs, donor decision-making processes and civil society consultations. You can join the discussion by logging on during the event, or by pre-submitting questions via our website.

We hope that the issues raised during this forum will not only spark further conversation during the GYF, but also contribute to an ongoing global dialogue about the importance of youth engagement.

You can participate in the global youth forum—before, during, and after our e-forum—on Twitter at #icpdyouth or by registering as a virtual delegate.

Last year, the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people received much-deserved international attention. For example, UNICEF dedicated its 2011 State of the World’s Children Report to adolescents, the new executive director of UNFPA proclaimed his commitment to the reproductive health of youth during one of his first public appearances, and the 2011 International Conference on Family Planning dedicated an entire section of the conference program to the topic of youth sexual and reproductive health (YSRH).  The renewed commitment to YSRH is refreshing and inspiring, but we probably all agree that more needs to be done.

Adolescents face mounting public health challenges; approximately 5 million young people are currently living with HIV, and childbirth is still the number one cause of death of girls ages 15–19.  And yet, most of us working in the field of adolescent sexual and reproductive health—whether as professionals, peer educators, or advocates—have a strong sense of strategies for improving YSRH that work, and those that don’t. During the 2011 annual Interagency Youth Working Group (IYWG) meeting, participants discussed strategies that have proven successful, as well as those that have not, and developed a set of recommendations for YSRH donors.

From January 25 to 27, 2012, we will host an online discussion titled, What’s Next? Maintaining the Focus on Youth: A Dialogue with YSRH Donors. This e-forum will be facilitated by representatives from donor organizations that support youth sexual and reproductive health, as well as by young people themselves. The e-forum will provide the opportunity for us to share the strategy recommendations developed at the IYWG meeting as well as to gather additional feedback and suggestions from those of you who were unable to attend the meeting.  This is our chance to engage in meaningful conversations with members of donor organizations about how we can maintain the focus on young people and ensure that their SRH needs are met.

Elizabeth Futrell is an associate technical officer at FHI360, where she works on activities related to community-based family planning and youth sexual and reproductive health.

According to the Council for Global Equality, as of June 2011, homosexuality is criminalized in more than 80 countries around the world, most of them low- and middle-income nations. In Uganda, for example, where homosexual acts are already illegal, a controversial bill was introduced earlier this year that would increase the penalty for those convicted to life in prison. The penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”—defined as when one of the participants is a minor, HIV-positive, disabled, or a “serial offender”—would be the death penalty. In addition, anyone who failed to report a person they knew to engage in homosexual acts would also face prosecution. While international pressure prevented a vote on the bill this spring, it will likely be reintroduced next year. Uganda is not alone. Homosexual acts are also punishable by death in Nigeria, Iran, and Yemen, and are considered criminal activity in 37 countries in Africa, 22 in Asia, two in Europe, 15 in the Middle East and North Africa, and 11 in the Americas and Caribbean.* Even in countries without explicit laws against homosexual activity, men who have sex with men often face arbitrary persecution.

The stigma, discrimination, homophobia, violence, and criminalization often faced by men who have sex with men—and particularly young people within this population—can prevent them from accessing the services they need for HIV prevention, treatment, and care. Not only is it challenging for young men who have sex with men to be honest about their behaviors, but it is also difficult for organizations that serve this population to operate and stay funded. As a result of these challenges and the high biological risk—transmission of HIV is five times more likely to occur through unprotected anal intercourse than through unprotected vaginal intercourse—men who have sex with men are considered one of the populations most at risk of HIV. In fact, men who have sex with men are on average 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population, yet fewer than one in 20 has access to HIV care. In many places such as Russia and the United States, young men who have sex with men have a significantly higher HIV prevalence than older men in this population.

Worldwide, great strides must be taken to prevent the spread of HIV among young men who have sex with men. Evidence-based sexuality education materials focused on same-sex behaviors are sorely needed. One unintentional but widespread consequence of heterosexually-focused HIV prevention education is that some young people report that they consider anal intercourse to be risk-free. It is important that HIV prevention programming for young men who have sex with men focus on behaviors and avoid labels, as many people who engage in same-sex partnerships do not consider themselves “gay” or “homosexual.” Organizations that serve young men who have sex with men must find creative ways to reach those who need services using media and technology, social networks, and peer education. Perhaps most integral to the ability of the public health community to meet the needs of young men who have sex with men is a cultural and political shift away from criminalization of same-sex sexual activity and of HIV-infection and toward tolerance and equal rights, including access to services, for all. The direction this pressing human rights issue—and the HIV pandemic—will take lies in the hands of today’s young people. 

Want to learn more about HIV risk and young men who have sex with men?

FHI 360 is hosting an e-forum on behalf of the IYWG to discuss the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people most at risk of HIV (young men who have sex with men, young people who use injecting drugs and young people who sell sex). Click here to view the sub-topic pages and read the bios of our experts from UNICEF, amfAR, Youth R.I.S.E., and the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne. This forum will give participants an opportunity to discuss ways to meet the sexual and reproductive health and HIV needs of most-at-risk young people and to ask questions about the report Young People Most at Risk of HIV.

Join the conversation, online: http://deck.ly/~Us3Aw, or on Twitter: #IYWGMAR.


Current events such as the unrest in the Middle East, the crisis in Japan, and the continued recovery efforts in Haiti remind us of the many needs of adolescents in humanitarian settings. Adolescents are a special population, and they require tailored programming to meet their unique needs in crisis situations. Nearly 85 percent of the world’s young people live in developing countries, where most humanitarian emergencies occur. Humanitarian emergencies disrupt family and social structures; in crisis situations, adolescents are often separated from their families, and educational programs are discontinued.

“The loss of livelihood, security and the protection provided by family and community places adolescents at risk of poverty, violence, and sexual exploitation and abuse.” -ASRH Toolkit for Humanitarian Settings (Save the Children and UNFPA)

To learn more about working with adolescents in Humanitarian settings, participate in the upcoming IYWG e-forum, Untapped potential—Working with youth to meet their SRH needs in humanitarian emergencies, April 19th through April 22nd.  Facilitated by experts in the field, the forum will give participants an opportunity to discuss this topic and to ask questions about the Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Toolkit for Humanitarian Settings (Save the Children and UNFPA), a companion to the Inter-agency Field Manual on Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Settings (Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises). An e-learning course on this subject has also been released by UNFPA and Save the Children.

Click here to register for the forum and read more about the facilitators. We look forward to hearing from you on the 19th!

 

The IYWG is hosting an online forum to discuss youth peer education.  We’ll be focusing on the recently completed Evidence-Based Guidelines for Youth Peer Education.   Discussion topics include program planning, recruitment and retention of peer educators, training youth to be peer educators, leading peer education sessions, supervision and program management, monitoring and evaluation, and addressing gender in peer education.

The e-forum presents an opportunity for everyone – whether you’re a program manager, a supervisor, a peer educator, or just someone interested in improving youth peer education – to ask questions and share their experiences.

The forum will begin at 9 AM Eastern Standard Time (EST) on Monday, January 10th and end at 5 PM EST Thursday, January 13th.  Beginning on the 10th, you can submit questions to our experts and share your experiences with colleagues working in peer education.  Because our experts live in a variety of time zones, their responses will be posted beginning on the morning of January 11th.

Click here to learn more about our experts or register for the forum.

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This blog is brought to you by the Interagency Youth Working Group (IYWG) with financial assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The content is managed by FHI, which functions as the secretariat for the IYWG.
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