What are we fighting for? The experience of young people at the United Nations

In June, I was selected from 500 young people from all over the world to join four young leaders from Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and India at the United Nations High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF-ONU), held 11-19 July in New York.

Our mission, as young human rights activists, was to ensure that our voices, concerns and priorities were heard. For me it was also a chance to find out how other young people deal with the challenge of gaining recognition for our sexual and reproductive rights.

For example, I met one activist from Kenya who provides an internet café where activists can go on-line and systematize data that they gather in their communities. Through this initiative more than 300 young people monitor the extent to which Objective 5, which demands the empowerment of women and girls and gender equality, is being implemented in their communities.

I also met a young activist from Nigeria who works in human rights education. She advocates for girls’ rights to make decisions about their own sexuality, and fights sexism in a country where human rights violations like child marriage and female genital mutilation are major concerns.

A major challenge is to find creative ways of talking about these issues with girls and adolescents, in order to promote cultural and social changes that respect their dignity and promote inclusiveness.

It was also great to hear first-hand about societal differences. For example Pooja, an activist in India, said:

“In India it is a crime for two men or two women to kiss each other. We have a lot to fight for. We must get out on to the streets and we need more people to join us in demanding recognition of sexual diversity and an end to discrimination. Society also has rigid norms for heterosexual couples. Expressions of desire or love in public places are not very common”.

This sounds pretty old-fashioned by Argentinian standards, but learning about the different contexts in which activists work was a vital part of the forum.

If we know our rights we have more power to defend them

Meeting face-to-face with young people from all over the world motivated me to continue working, so that others can speak freely about sexuality and gain access to information on their rights as well as exercising and enjoying them. If we know our rights, we have more power to defend them.

These forums provide an opportunity to monitor and give continuity to the work of governments in guaranteeing rights through the Sustainable Development Objectives (SDGs) and Agenda 2030, agreed in December 2015

My participation as a young activist was like having an accelerated course in political advocacy at the United Nations, with workshops on Agenda 2030, the forum and advocacy opportunities.

On behalf of Amnesty International, I led what proved to be a very useful workshop on campaigning and activism experiences and initiatives in places as far away as Saudi Arabia, Germany, Canada and Uruguay.

Then, during the forum, I faced the challenge of getting to know other participants: introducing myself; getting a clear understanding of how each person could help me with my strategy; and formulating key questions. This was important especially as there were 2,500 people in the same building, all trying to give continuity to achieving the SDGs and reviewing strategies to ensure inclusive development.

We need more young activists in the Amnesty movement! Learn more about your sexual and reproductive rights and how to protect them here

* María Paula García is coordinator of Amnesty Argentina’s Youth Section and is also in the Argentina Human Rights and Youth Education team. At the HLPF, Paula was part of the Youth Advocates team invited by the youth leadership organization Restless Development.