“We have no rights as long as others are making choices for us – Nothing about us without us”.
In February 2018, I attended the 8th African Conference on Sexual Health and Rights (ACSHR) under the theme “Advancing the Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights of Girls and Women in Africa” as a representative of Young Queer Alliance which forms part of the Sex Rights Africa Network. The conference was organised by the AIDS Foundation of South Africa. the During these five days of conference, I was continuously reminded about how this was a great opportunity for all delegates, especially as young people who are scholars, activists and development workers across various African countries, to rethink and renew our commitment to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) as well as to reconnect with partners for action. By all means, the 8th edition of the ACSHR was an incredible platform for interactive debates, challenging assumptions and knowledge sharing on effective practices and innovative tools. In particular, I will share with you this one meaningful memory that sums up the spirit of this conference.
– Some participants and organisers at the conference
We were all sitting in this big conference room, listening to one panelist after the other on topics such as “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investment in young people” and “How Sustainable Development Goals Address Young People’s Needs”. Technical terms, big research, national findings. Presentations led to questions which then fostered endless discussions.
Day 2 followed Day 1 with another session relating the four pillars of the Demographic Dividend to SRHR and the audience now clearly expressed frustration. It took only one day for young people in this room to voice out and say: “No, we are done being talked to, and not listened to. We are done with the same research findings and recommendations. Let’s also talk about the issues we identify as young people at grassroot level and work on how we can move forward together. Let’s transform research into action”. At this point, scholar presentations were off the table for the day; we went into different small discussion groups and it was all about: establishing current issues and existing resources, identifying gaps, and generating viable solutions to be compiled in an outcome document.
My personal take-away from this conference resides in that particular moment of revolt: “Nothing about us without us”.
“Nothing about us without us” means that everyone should be included in the process, from decision-making to implementation.
– Amic (middle) participating during a discussion
“Nothing about us without us” means that as young people of this generation, as activists, as people living with disabilities, as LGBTIQ+ people, as sex workers, as drug users, as members of any ethnic group/ social class/ religious affiliation (and I could go on like this), we have the duty to speak for ourselves, to get involved in our own development and to commit to our responsibilities fully when working towards common goals. And this happens now. We are not the youth of tomorrow. We are the youth of now.
So let’s ask ourselves: “What am I committed to do today?”