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End patronising, piecemeal engagement of youth

Submitted by unaidsadmin on Thu, 2012-07-26 04:25 - 0 Comments

Speech by Jaevion Nelson, Executive Director of the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network, delivered at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. during a Regional Session on Sustainability and HIV.

Young people are central to the success and sustainability of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support efforts.
Increased funding for programmes has ensured that as young people, we are more empowered with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and correct knowledge about HIV--as well as resources and commodities to support and encourage us to abandon risky behaviours and seek HIV prevention, treatment and care services.
Despite many programmes/interventions and remarkable success, young people, especially those of us who are among key and affected populations, continue to be at high risk and vulnerable to HIV transmission. Many of us are gay, bisexual, transgender, sex workers, lesbian, disabled, living with HIV, incarcerated, living in the care of the state, homeless, among other things, but we remain largely invisible to the general population. Even within the AIDS response we are not afforded the space to fully contribute to turning the tide and ensuring and AIDS-free generation. 
As UNAIDS has said “at this pivotal moment in the response, we must courageously face up to the challenges presented by a new context and embrace wholeheartedly the opportunities to break the trajectory of the epidemic.” Sadly, in my view, which is informed by four years of working in the sector (as a volunteer), this is hardly the case when it comes to young people.  
Seemingly, we are more appreciated (and sadly too many of us have bought into this practice) as articulate testifiers.
Talking about us as young people and giving us space to air our concerns is commendable BUT woefully insufficient. 
If we are not mobilised to harness our energies and become more active in the regional AIDS response the successes gained over the years can be reversed. 
Regional partners must do much more than use young people as an AIDS-FUNDING BINGO. We have to task ourselves to care to do more than we are currently doing. 
This is already happening in some places but leadership and meaningful involvement of young people is still woefully inept. In Jamaica, my organisation, the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN), though in need of more resources to scale up our work, is treated with great respect as any other AIDS organisation. We work closely with multi and bilateral partners, the Ministry of Health, which has been supporting us with office space and overheads since 2008, and several NGO partners. We have managed to represent young people in Jamaica and the Caribbean at national, regional and international fora. Sadly, this is not the case for the vast majority of the few young people and youth organisations in the region. 
There are some things that we can and must do: 
1. Provide youth-led organisations with funding
2. Employ young people in your organisations; not just as peer educators and outreach officers
3. Give young people sace to be key stakeholders and partners - not merely beneficiaries of your programmes
4. Build our capacities to write funding proposals and design, implement and monitor and evaluate programmes, policies and interventions
5. Build our capacities and respect our ability to hold non-governmental organisations, United Nations agencies and governments accountable to their commitments
6. Conduct research so the programmes that target us are informed by evidence. For far too long when it comes to data in reports there is a dearth when you reach Caribbean countries. This is unacceptable.
In closing, my encouragement is that you provide us with the space, tools and resources to nurture and support our leadership in the response. We have to do this together. 
We are as competent, with training and mentorship, to plan, design, monitor and evaluate and implement programmes and policies to ensure less people are becoming infected and dying. We are as competent, with training and mentorship, to ensure that more of us are on treatment and can be accorded our rights and dignity. 

About the Author

unaidsadmin's picture

The UNAIDS team offers the Caribbean the broad expertise of cosponsors and other UN organisations in areas such as program development and management, women and child health, education, legal networking, community care initiatives and resource mobilisation. The goal is an expanded response to HIV in the region with the world’s second highest HIV prevalence.