This post was authored by Nicki Imanguli and Abbey Marr.
Open Letter to President Bill Clinton
have let us down. So far, you are the best President of our lifetimes,
and you have let us down. We eagerly awaited your keynote speech
at the International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Mexico City because we
wanted to hear your commitments to overcoming the plight of HIV and
AIDS, including your commitments to reproductive rights and health of
young people. You see, as young women, we count on you and other
decision makers, to recognize our rights, respect us as young adults,
and provide the necessary resources that will allow us, as young people,
to take responsibility for our actions and decisions.
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your speech, you expressed your support for important issues such as
the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, the creation of a
separate UN agency for women for gender-based violence prevention in
the UN, and the importance of dealing with the social realities of HIV
and AIDS in low and middle income countries. We applaud you for
you failed to mention the population that has the highest rate of new
HIV infections–young people. By failing to acknowledge young people,
you have denied us your respect and your commitment to provide resources
that not only include condoms and other forms of contraception, but
also access to comprehensive sex education both domestically and abroad.
And we are disappointed. Further, by grouping a 15-year-old young man
living with AIDS and his 20-year-old sister in the same population as
children, you ignored the needs, rights, and realities of young people,
ages of 15-24, as one of the fastest growing populations with HIV.
So we must ask this question – where is your commitment to us?
a few minutes after your speech, we stumbled upon hope from an unlikely
source. During a discussion, a representative of the current Bush Administration
acknowledged the separate needs of young people in fighting the HIV
and AIDS pandemic. Surprisingly, the representative we spoke with treated
us with respect, by listening and recognizing our needs in the conversation.
We explained how crucial and important it was for young people
to have access to comprehensive sex education and HIV prevention education
and how the current ideologically-driven abstinence-until-marriage policy
incorporated into the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief
(PEPFAR) undermined that information. His response began with an acknowledgment
of current domestic and international policies and he encouraged us
to take our energy, stories, and realities to the policy makers on the
Hill. He seemed sincerely shocked by just how little information
young people receive.
realize that this conversation could be just empty rhetoric from an
administration that has consistently compromised the health of young
people through abstinence-only education policies domestically and internationally.
However, we appreciated the discussion and acknowledgement that young
people matter. The sexual and reproductive health of young people should
not be a partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans should recognize
the needs of young people to receive science-based, accurate sexual
health information. This is an issue that cuts across party lines, and
we sincerely hope that the next president–whether a Democrat or a Republican–will
recognize the needs and realities of young people both abroad and domestically.
We hope that a new administration will respect young people’s rights,
understand our need for resources, and facilitate an environment where
we are empowered, rather than obstructed, by ideology and politics,
to take responsibility for our sexual and reproductive health.
Imanguli and Abbey Marr