ACT!2030 participated in the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva in May, and we were lucky enough to participate in the 3rd annual Global Citizens' Hearing, "Citizen-led accountability to achieve health for all: adolescents as agents of change". This event was organised by IPPF, Save the Children, the White Ribbon Alliance, World Vision and supported by Canada, and co-sponsored by the governments of Afghanistan, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden and Uruguay as well as UNAIDS, UNFPA and PMNCH. It was great to see so much high level support for youth-led accountability! We were represented on this panel by Jona Turalde from ACT!2030 Philippines. You can read her full intervention below.
"Good afternoon, I am Jona Turalde, 19 from the Philippines. Since I was 16 years old, I've been very active in advocating for youth policy advocacy in my country. I have met a lot of young people who are also advocates and one them became a very close friend. He’s been my partner in almost every advocacy and voluntary work that we both do. At first, none of us knew that he has HIV, but despite this, he has still been very active in lobbying and advocating for sexual and reproductive health. The time that I knew about him being HIV positive, and seeing him struggle almost everyday, it became a turning point for me to further amplify the need to make their voices and the situation of sexual and reproductive health and rights, SRHR, in the country be recognized and be listened to.
Without a full commitment of the government to SRHR, the 30 Filipinos per day who are infected with HIV will be increasing and increasing. In our country, adolescents below 18 years old aren’t allowed to test for HIV without parental consent. How can someone even say to his/her parents that he/she is having sex, if the very holy society that we’re living in dictates that any form of sexual activity at a young age is a way of committing a sin to God. How much more if you suspect that you do have HIV? A teenager like us will really feel that the people will judge us if we ask for contraceptives and pregnancy tests in public health care clinics.
I have a cousin who got pregnant at the age of 16 because she was raped. However she couldn’t have an abortion because this is a serious crime in the Philippines. Her story is just one of the increasing number of unwanted adolescent pregnancies in the Philippines. The UN Population Fund notes that the Philippines is the only country in the Asia-Pacific region where the rate of teen pregnancies rose over the last 20 years. How can a society of dominating conservatism be able to even understand the situations of these teenage girls?
These are only some of the stories of young Filipinos unheard and unrecognized because SRHR is perceived to be a taboo subject of discussion in the Philippines. This is what motivates me to strengthen the need to mainstream SRHR, and the need of fully implementing the Reproductive Health law and Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools.
Through a project called ACT!2030 we have been working with IPPF and UNAIDS to establish mechanisms for youth led accountability around the 2030 Agenda for HIV and SRHR. We have an upcoming Youth Data Reporters Program, where young people will be doing research and gathering their own data on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and the needs of young people on adolescent and youth-friendly services, and using this data to hold governments accountable.
Locally, we participate in the planning of the AIDS Medium Term Plan of the Philippine Government wherein young key affected populations are also part of. We are also working with the Department of Health on adolescent SRHR and advocating for sustainable engagement of young people. Through these initiatives, the Philippine AIDS Law was amended particularly on the age restriction in terms of accessing HIV testing and services. This will serve as a genuine move to further mainstream the need of a definite SRHR in my country. Another success is that Philippine government issued an Executive Order that ensures investment on the full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law by integrating participation of many Philippine government agencies.
We call on teachers, social workers, and guidance counselors as allies in mainstreaming CSE in schools and pushing the Department of Health, Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health National Implementation Team, National Youth Commission and Department of Education to work together in the full implementation of Comprehensive Sexuality Education in the Philippines.
The power of 1.8 billion youth must be heard and felt by the ruling generation. Adolescents are the catalysts of change. We, youth and adolescents, can draft policies, participate in consultations and be involved in the implementation of programs. Youth involvement is a cost-effective and strategic investment in the long run. We are the experts of ourselves as we see, feel, and experience our own problems and our own aspirations. We can give and articulate youth perspective on issues especially on healthcare.
I, Jona Turalde, together with my fellow youth here in this assembly, fully-realized and enlightened of young people’s healthcare, now demand youth friendly, quality SRHR services and healthcare for all, as we stand from the youth, by the youth, and for the youth, that shall inherit this earth."
Views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent those of the organizations that support this initiative, nor is the publishing of these blogs an endorsement. This space is provided for youth advocates to freely express their views on issues that affect them and relate to their work.