Faced with a large empty room in front of her, Ionela is feeling nervous about the day ahead. She chose this setting because she thought it would have a warm and cozy atmosphere. Her aim was to create a comfortable space for 25 young people to start discussing their sexual and reproductive rights.
It was a big room to fill, and Ionela was losing her voice as she was also not feeling 100% well. She was starting to question herself and her bold decision to organise this event. She didn’t want the sensitive issues and topics she was planning to bring up to create tensions. Rather she wanted to inspire other young activists like herself to get involved in an international campaign and to understand the human rights issues and how they affected them personally, as well as people in different countries.
Ionela has been an international member since 2011 and has organized seven Amnesty International events, involving over 4000 young people. There is no local Amnesty office in Romania, so when she moved to Bucharest she emailed the Amnesty International Secretariat and asked for ways to get involved. She started by arranging a Letter Writing Marathon (Write for Rights) event in 2011 and when she heard about the My Body My Rights campaign on sexual and reproductive rights, Ionela particularly wanted to get involved to raise awareness ‘of the rights that everybody has.’
Ionela was ardent about mobilizing people – It was the 23rd of May and Ionela began her event at Café Bastille, a café-bookshop, in Bucharest. 25 people joined the workshop, mainly young students who were interested in getting involved. In the run up to the event she posted information on the Facebook page that she herself created and runs. Ionela uses it as the main platform to engage with people who are interested in in Amnesty and human rights in Romania.
‘Speaking Out’ about Romania
Ionela used the ‘Speaking Out’ human rights education module produced to help structure workshops on the My Body My Rights campaign. She focused on the human rights violation examples given from Ireland and Morocco to encourage the group to share their thoughts. But some of the participants were hesitant. Ionela then decided to introduce local issues that Romanians would find easier to relate to. She facilitated discussions about the phenomenon of child arranged marriages in Roma communities, the right to abortion and the right to sexual and reproductive life education, all issues that are relevant to the Romanian context.
As the participants became more open to the discussions Ionela started to feel calmer. She realised she had a group of people ‘who always had ideas and felt confident to share them with others.’ The participants expressed their knowledge, opinions and understanding of these issues and Ionela said that ‘offering them the opportunity to discuss Romanian human rights issues made them more interested in debating and trying to understand the cause of the problems, and how to think about solutions.’
Petru Saca is a recent university graduate who has already been helping and supporting Ionela’s work. He said that he took part in the event as he was curious about the opinions of Romanians regarding sexual and reproductive rights – ‘I was afraid that the participants would be hostile and intolerant. However, I was glad to see that everyone reacted positively and kept an open mind. In a way, this event has helped me understand that Romanians can be tolerant of others and their rights.’
Ana Budean, a law school graduate from Bucharest, said: ‘I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the topic of sexual and reproductive rights, as it is not one so openly and freely discussed among my peers.’
Andreea Toma, from Bucharest liked that ‘the whole event was interactive and based on exchanges of ideas.’ She learned ‘new information about the critical situations of various communities in the world.’ ‘The My Body My Rights event has helped me tostrengthen my belief in human rights for all,’ she said.
Ionela wanted to engage the participants of the workshop, she wanted them to feel empowered and know that ‘they are the masters of their body’ and as a result Andreea, Ana and others contacted Ionela to join her team. She also hoped to inspire them to ‘promote these ideas with their friends and families,’ and most participants are already sharing and reposting her Facebook posts with their friends online.
She is currently working on creating the first local group of Amnesty activists in Bucharest and plans to write a blog about human rights topics and issues in order to engage and inform a Romanian audience.
Amnesty International launched the My Body My Rights campaign in March 2014, which aims to empower individuals to make informed choices about their sexuality and reproduction, and to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights freely.
‘Speaking Out!’ is a youth engagement human rights education activity to help start a conversation and enable young people to take meaningful action for the My Body My Rights campaign and become campaign champions.
The My Body My Rights human rights education activities aim to engage youth to:Increase their understanding of sexual and reproductive rights, how they affect their lives and why they are important,
Have their voices and opinions highlighted in the global campaign launch,
Begin or continue their involvement with the My Body My Rights campaign and sexual and reproductive rights work with Amnesty International,
Develop skills by facilitating human rights education and activism with other young people.