UNESCO Youth Forum: Young people driving the HIV prevention revolution
21 October 2011
How can the world’s youth maximize their potential as dynamic agents of social, political and economic change to improve their lives, health and societies? The 7th UNESCO Youth Forum, held in Paris from 17 - 20 October, brought together nearly 250 youth delegates from 193 Member States and hundreds of civil society observers to try to find answers to this key question.
With the theme ‘How youth drive change,’ the Forum explored the myriad ways in which young people are reshaping the world. Three sub-themes looked at youth in political and public life, breaking through employment barriers, and countering youth exclusion, vulnerability and violence.
HIV remains a major area of vulnerability for young people, with 15-24 year-olds representing some 40% of new infections among adults worldwide. On the third day of the Forum, more than 30 youth delegates from around the world engaged in a ‘cafe discussion’ on HIV-related issues and AIDS activism.
During the session, organized by UNESCO, delegates were encouraged to contribute to the HIV response in their home countries. They shared diverse opinions and ideas, learning from each other’s experiences.
“I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a female condom! It just shows the lack of information,” said Lamia Jouini from Tunisia with a slight laugh, a member of the International Federation of Medical Student’s Association. On a more serious note, she added, “The HIV situation is bad in many countries—we should really adjust our work to the needs of young people.”
The wide-ranging discussions touched on issues such as stigma and discrimination, lack of good-quality sexuality education in schools and access to commodities such as quality condoms.
I was really impressed with the work young people are doing to educate themselves and their peers, challenging stigma!
Joanna Herat, a programme specialist in the HIV and AIDS section with UNESCO.
“I was really impressed with the work young people are doing to educate themselves and their peers, challenging stigma,” said Joanna Herat, a programme specialist in the HIV and AIDS section with UNESCO, who facilitated the discussion. “Many of the delegates left the session with a strong sense of dedication to advocate for HIV-related education in their home countries.”
Developing a symbiotic relationship between young people and UNESCO as an organization was also seen as critical. Delegates took the opportunity to tell UNESCO representatives about their needs and priorities as advocates and beneficiaries. The UN agency, in turn, was able to identify activists and follow up with them for peer engagement and leadership development opportunities.
The café discussion reflected the aspirations of the 7th UNESCO Youth Forum as a whole: to encourage youth to be a force that makes a difference in the world and to be a force that drives change.