A PLATFORM TO ENABLE YOUTH ADVOCATES TO INITIATE MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION WITH POLICYMAKERS THINK TANKS AND ACADEMIA
Between August 29-30, we held a 2-day national conclave in New Delhi with 170 young people from 17 states to engage with policymakers and other relevant stakeholders on issues of adolescent health, gender and well-being. Youth Insight brought together youth, government, technical agencies and civil society stakeholders on an equal-footing platform to effectuate a range of focused multi-stakeholder discussions towards affecting youth-informed programming and policy.
The panelists for plenary discussions on the 30th included Dr. Ajay Khera (Public Health Specialist and Deputy Commissioner Incharge – Child and Adolescent Health, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India), Dr Gautam Kr Singh (State Program Officer, Adolescent Health, Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Delhi), Dr Saroj Bala Yadav (Head of Education in Social Sciences and Humanities, NCERT), Mr. Anand Sinha, Country Advisor, The Packard Foundation, Dr Jaya J (Program Specialist, Adolescent and Youth, UNFPA India), Dr. Aparajita Gogoi (Executive Director, Centre for Catalyzing Change) and Shailendra Sharma (Principal Advisor, Directorate of Education, Government of Delhi). The panelists directly interacted with young leaders who had been working with health programmes with NGOs and some with the RKSK programme as well. The discussions focused on how curricula can address most relevant needs of young people, systems strengthening including training of adolescent health counselors and the need to ensure health programmes expand the choices available to young women and girls beyond marriage and other stereotypical gendered ideas of women’s work.
Youth Insight culminated in announcing the inauguration of a national youth-led policy working group on adolescent health. A drafting committee shared demands and needs from all the young people present that became the first collective statement of the Policy Working Group -their vision, identity, thematic area of work, representation, accountability and membership criteria. The collective sought support from different institutions including government and CSOs to strengthen their commitment and meaningful engagement. Representatives from various organisations including MAMTA, Jhpeigo, Population Foundation of India, David and Lucille Packard Foundation, UNFPA, CREA and Dalit Vikas Bindu responded with their insights and support to the initiative.
Some of the issues that the youth advocates highlighted through Youth Insight were:
1. Lack of spaces from where young people can access adequate and correct information. Accessing health services and information is further stigmatized for young people.
2. Society’spatronizing attitudes (teachers, families, counselors, service providers etc.) towards young people (including young people who implement government programs).
3. An environment that is non-conducive for young people, both at the systemic and family level. They are often not included (including young people from the LGBTQI community) by the government while designing programs and policies that are directed towards them and are included only at the time of implementation of such programs and policies.
4. Intersectionality of issues focusing young people to include gender, sexuality, caste, religion, mental health, SRHR, life-skills etc.
5. Issues with national/state level data that is collected by the government
a. Binary data that classifies individuals as men/women or adolescent boys/adolescent girls and does not recognize the spectrum of identities
b. Complete absence of data from the LGBTQI community. The government collects data from the community only around HIV/AIDS.
6. Role of media in reinforcing existing stereotypes through mass media representations.
7. Issues in laws such as POCSO Act & Section 377 that stigmatizes sexual behavior of young individuals on the basis of their age and sexual preference.
8. Need for social accountability models embedded within programs and policies.