How the Youth Got Their Voice Back
July 27, 2012
Written by Lindsey Hammergren, Program Manager and Research Assistant
Video by Julia Nagel, Web and Social Media Associate
For the past decade, the youth movement has been an integral component of the International AIDS Conferences, and this year is no different, rather the youth are more outspoken this year than ever before. For AIDS 2012, IAS organizers saw a 34% increase in youth-centered proposals for the Global Village than in previous years. Perhaps spurred by this year’s theme: “Turning the Tide Together” or maybe because they’re tired of only having a token seat at the table, this year’s youth theme is all about having the equal opportunity to make a lasting impact.
Emily Carson, Youth Program Coordinator, spoke to me passionately about how many organizations simply have a youth spokesperson on the board, for one reason: to say that youth have a seat at the table. But rarely is that youth given the opportunity to contribute meaningful opinions and thoughts to the board on which they sit.
So just how do the youth of this year’s conference intend to be heard? It all begins at the Youth Pre-Conference. I had the opportunity to attend a few sessions and the enthusiasm in this young crowd (ages 16-26) was infectious; they were passionate about fighting HIV/AIDS among young people and were thrilled to have the opportunity to be here at the time of the international AIDS Conference.
At the 2000 Durban Conference, there were only about 50 young people in attendance and young people demanded that the international community take the lead in involving more youth. As a result, young people began building coalitions to bring to the conference and the inaugural YouthForce pre-conference was launched in 2002. Pressure from these youth coalitions led the IAS to form the official youth programme in 2006. Only after establishing the youth programme did IAS officially partner with YouthForce to put on the pre-conference.
This miniature version of its larger sibling would mimic the main AIDS conference with an opening session, daily plenaries, small sessions, and a closing session. Entrance to this conference involves a highly competitive application process. The end result? 250 youth, from over 180 countries, who enthusiastically poured into the District the week prior to AIDS2012. Fifty percent of the pre-conference attendees are HIV+.
During the sessions I attended, I heard young adults speak passionately and eloquently about how to better engage youth in the effort to “turn the tide.” They are supportive of one another and to say that they are enthusiastic doesn’t even begin to describe their engagement. At this pre-conference, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who won’t speak their mind; “shy” and “taboo” were not words in their vocabulary.
These 250 lucky youngsters were joined by more than 3,000 of their peers at the AIDS 2012 Conference. Ground zero for them is the Global Village and YouthForce Pavilion. Their main focus at the Youth Pavilion this year is about being heard, more so than ever before. There are 87 events at the main conference focused specifically on youth.
Throughout the past two weeks, using primarily social media interaction, YouthForce is creating a declaration for change known as The YouthForce Declaration. While this document is still in progress, they have three major themes that will be the cornerstone of the declaration: “We want ACCESS, We insist on PARTNERSHIP, and We demand EQUALITY”.
If “Turning the Tide Together” is AIDS 2012’s theme, then YouthForce’s theme this year was most certainly “Don’t Forget About Us”.
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