“This experience was not only one of the most intense and innovative events that I have ever participated in but I believe it gave myself and the other participants the essential tools we need in order to better assist Dominican adolescents and youth across the board as it relates to access to sexual reproductive health services.”
These were the words of First Vice President of the National Youth Council Kerdisha St.Louis, who attended the four-day Third Regional Meeting of Youth Leaders on Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV and AIDS from July 30th -August 2nd 2019 in Port-of-Spain, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
This event was the third of its kind organized by the Pan-Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), the mechanism that provides a structured and unified approach to the Caribbean’s response to the HIV epidemic.
The objective of this forum was to facilitate the drafting of a roadmap with strategies for sustaining youth advocacy for the promotion of gender equality, HIV prevention, actions to end gender-based violence and access to quality sexual reproductive health (SRH) services to meet the needs of adolescents and youth regardless of disability, age, citizenship, gender identity and sexual orientation.
St. Louis stated, “I was very excited when I learnt that I would be attending this third meeting following my participating in the first meeting in 2017 where I formed part of a steering committee organized by the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities’ Coalition. From the first day this was a very intensive programme.”
Day one focused on the current state of Adolescent Health in the Caribbean and Legislation and policies that relate to sexual reproductive health and discussions on Youth Advocacy across the Caribbean.
Day two highlighted improving youth access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, using social media to present human rights issues and needs of young people and LGBT + persons in the region; addressing stigma and discrimination; shared incidence database implementation in the Caribbean and sustaining regional and national level advocacy.
Days three and four highlighted understanding the current status of access to HIV, Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) services for adolescents and young girls in the Region. Sharing examples of successful advocacy interventions being applied by youth to prevent and increase access to services for HIV, SRH Services for adolescents and young girls and demonstrating how these interventions can be more widely applied across the region.
Overall the main aim was to share good practices through the Regional Youth Network and thereby increase positive sharing, coherence and pride among its members. A similar objective that was also met was to improve participants’ capacity in capturing, synthesizing and sharing knowledge as it relates to youth advocacy for HIV, SRH, CSE, gender equality and violence in the Region.
“I am grateful for all the organizations that organized and played a part in this event such as PANCAP, CARPHA, CARICOM, CVCC AND PAHO. Director of PANCAP, Dereck Springer, highlighted the creation and relevance of the Caribbean Regional Youth Advocacy Framework (CRYAF) on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.”
“After developing the CRYAF with input from youth, we recognized that it was important to build youth leaders’ advocacy skills so that they would be better prepared to advocate at the regional and national levels”, stated the Director. “This was done during the second meeting of youth leaders, and the approach was successful as we now have a dynamic group of young people who are passionate and innovative in their approach to advocacy”.
PANCAP has been actively supporting youth leaders to advocate at the regional level, which included funding for youths to engage in regional forums with Ministers of Health and Education.
PANCAP also supported youth leaders’ participation in the Joint Regional Dialogue with Faith Leaders, Parliamentarians, Civil Society Leaders and National AIDS Programme Managers.
A presentation by youth leaders advocating for access to sexual and reproductive health services was also positively received at the Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD).
The PANCAP Director praised the development of action plans by the youth body and also encouraged youths to continue utilizing digital platforms, including social media, to propagate their advocacy messages.
He outlined the plethora of new knowledge which will be gained by youths during the meeting and urged participants to utilize the new skills to collaborate and heighten sexual and reproductive health advocacy across the region.
Also in attendance was Dominican, Renatta Langlais, a Member of the, PANCAP Steering Committee on Youth Advocacy (PSCYA) and Dominican David Hodge, Youth Advocate.