Patricia is from Uganda. She is representing the Guttmacher Institute's Protecting the Next Generation Project at the conference.
Borrowing from the opening remarks of the co-chair of the session "Young People and Sexuality: the Unspoken Taboo," it was interesting that we didn't have a youth panelist. The topic of young people and sexuality has always been controversial and raises a lot of debate. This session has been very interesting coming from a country and society where the topics discussed raise eyebrows and in some situations a tendency to not even want to talk about it. Yet, it's becoming a real issue that needs to be addressed. The panelists talked about and shared their findings on sex tourism in Kenya, HIV among male migrants, urban youth culture and MSM in Jamaica, the risks, homophobia and related questions.
I work for an organization that boldly studies issues of sexuality and it has not been an easy thirteen years. Many people were hesitant about talking openly about sexuality for fear that it would increase sexual activity among young people and thereby accelerate the HIV infection rate. Over the years, though, continuous sensitization, advocacy and experience-sharing about the benefits of open discussion and dialog about sexuality have helped people come to appreciate the importance of talking about sexuality to young people. The times have changed. Yet some people in our society do not want to accept that people be free to express themselves without judgment. It is now fine to talk about sex but only a specific kind of sex that society believes should be the right one. Ignoring the other aspect of sexuality, especially among young people during a time at which they are at highest risk only retards our HIV prevention programmes.
In my work that involves working with young people in schools, a chance is given to talk to them about their lives. There's always a note of caution not to talk about things their parents wouldn't want them to hear. Consequently, many young people have come out to talk about their lives and what challenges they face coming from a different way of life and yet they are like any other young people facing the risk of HIV infection.
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This session has made me realize how much more I need to help all young people, regardless of their ethnicity, beliefs, circumstances or sexual orientation, to live a life free from HIV. I have heard what is on the ground. I have heard people sharing experiences and now it's time for me to act.