Author: Camila Ochoa Mendoza

On the 20th November 2015, I represented YouAct at the Speak Up! Seminar hosted by Le Planning Familial in Paris. Along with members from Le Planning Familial (France), APF (Portugal), CFPA (Cyprus), Colour Youth (Greece), H.E.R.A (Macedonia), and Y-SAFE (European Network), the weekend was an opportunity to meet other youth advocates, exchange good practices, and discuss what the challenges we face regarding SRHR in Europe are. Plenty of time was spent going through definitions of SRHR- and advocacy-related terminology, and we discovered how complex it is to define terms like ‘sexuality’. All of us in the room dedicate ourselves to this cause, yet we all had difficulty coming up with definitions. Is sexuality a social construct? Does it depend on what perspective you look at? We definitely had some passionate debates regarding these terms. We soon realized that it was impossible to agree on a single definition, but we thoroughly discussed the different interpretations that these words are identified with. We also spent a lot of time sharing with each other the work that we do in our organizations, providing tips, expressing challenges and receiving constructive feedback. These conversations were accompanied with tools and resources on methods of participation. These included Roger Hart’s “Ladder of Participation”, that identifies the different scenarios in which youth get involved, and the RMSOS approach which identifies the different factors that that need to be in place for meaningful youth participation to happen.

Participating in the Speak Up! Seminar

This was my first time attending a seminar on Sexual Health and Rights, and if there’s anything I learnt it’s that talking about issues relating to SRHR is difficult. Everyone comes from different cultural and social backgrounds, has different priorities and expectations, and a different point of view on what Sexual Rights imply. One of the focuses of the seminar was to map out common challenges and priorities across the different countries represented at the seminar. Among all the issues regarding SRHR that European countries face, the three that ranked highest priority were gender-based violence, abortion and LGBTQI discrimination. This exercise proved to be very difficult, as realities vary greatly all across Europe. For example, on the issue of abortion law, we have countries like France and the Netherlands where people have full access to safe abortion services, and countries like Greece and Macedonia where abortion is still highly stigmatized. These differences make planning for future campaigns together very difficult, as there are a myriad of factors that need to be considered, from the political outlook to religious and cultural ideologies, all which differ from country to country.

Nevertheless, these conversations are fruitful and necessary for progress to be made within youth organizations. Seldom do we get the chance to interact and brainstorm with other like-minded individuals who have different experiences and expertise. Discussions like these foster new ideas, and create an enthusiasm and motivation to put our ideas into practice, and bring the discussions and energies back into our own organizations. I was so inspired by all my hard-working and passionate peers, and very impressed at how much we managed to fit into the three days. I was very grateful for this opportunity to take part in a seminar about something I am so passionate about, and be around people who share that same passion as me, but I also felt the weekend was charged with some moments of tension and disagreements due to the variety of topics discussed.

There were many things that we learnt during the weekend, and many useful resources that I did take back and shared with YouAct. The experience and the variety of topics discussed lead me to also share this recommendation: next time you attend a seminar with peers, let go of your judgements and be open towards new ideas and opinions. Sexual health and rights is already a touchy subject as it is, and not a topic of conversation that is appropriate in every context. So when we are given a platform to talk about it in, let’s take advantage of it. Let’s ensure these platforms are safe spaces, free from judgement, where people can learn and discuss with a positive attitude.