The Power of Youth at Women Deliver

Brian Ackerman

On the second day of Women Deliver, Brian discovers the power of young people working together globally to challenge the status quo and contribute to real change.

During my second day of the Women Deliver Global Conference in London, I witnessed a stride in the right direction concerning representation and inclusion of the youth voice.

While working at the Youth Commitments Desk, young delegates from Turkey, Paraguay, Ecuador, Uganda, Kenya, China, Panama, Chile, the Congo, Nepal, the Philippines, (the list goes on and on), informed me firsthand about the issues that I advocate for within United States foreign policy. My primary question to them: am I getting it right?

I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to go to university and work in Washington, given the city's immense centralization of global power and influence. I want to make sure I am using my time and energy correctly. While I wish the answer to that question could have been a simple yes or no, the reality was somewhat more complicated.

I heard from a young woman from Uganda that the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programs are saving her family members because of the free provision of antiretroviral therapy. But at the same time, she told me that the prevention messaging ignores the realities of Ugandan social norms regarding monogamy and general sexual practice. I spoke with another young woman from Palestine who told me that while sexual practice is not an open topic in Islamic society, religion and effective reproductive health policies do not have to be at odds with one another. Another young woman from the Philippines told me about the young victims of sexual predation resulting from poverty and lack of education.

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Neither of these or my other conversations was particularly shocking to me, nor did I particularly disagree with anyone. Perhaps that is the result of convening a conference of 2,000 like-minded people working for reproductive and maternal health. However, I did learn that something is going right-even though we face seemingly insurmountable challenges to transforming global access to reproductive and maternal health, not all, but many young people the world over are aware that the status quo does not have to be accepted. My work in Washington is but a piece of that global struggle.

Perhaps the best way to conclude the day was seeing Andrew Francis, a member of Advocates for Youth's International Youth Leadership Council on stage as an equal stakeholder with international policy and non-governmental leaders during the afternoon plenary session. Indeed, it was not a resolution to include youth at the stakeholder level, but it was an inspiring step in the right direction.

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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