Getting a Seat at the Table

The Monday 18th of July I had the opportunity to be in a panel named: Getting a seat at the table, young leaders share the highs and lows of leadership and accountability. This panel was a collaboration between Link Up, Athena Network and the participants where; Raoul Franzen, Mimi Melles, Jacqueline Alesi, Myo Thet Oo, Linda Mafu and myself. The propose of this session was to brings together a group of young people who are involved in such spaces, at the country or global level, including the Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) of the Global Fund, the UNAIDS Programme Board Committee (PCB), and the UNAIDS Dialogue Platform for Women Living with HIV. The session explored some of the strategies employed by young people to make the most effective use of their engagement; their successes in representing different constituencies of young people; how they remain accountable to the communities they represent; and, any challenges they have encountered, and how we have overcome these.

I was asked about what barriers to young people in their diversity face to getting access to decision making spaces:

1. Language.

We use language to create realities, we can build and destroy paradigms by using different words or even creating more options that we weren’t able to describe because we don’t have the correct words to do so, or just to make a distinction. So, when we talk about language we must know that many terms are new for different people, and young people who may just start doing activism or understanding the HIV (and HIV related themes) world. This way, when we use technical language, maybe from the academia, science or UN system, we can get a bit lost, and of course of participation will be affected.

Idiom as well, is a huge gap. My first idiom and language is Spanish, and many people still believe that is English. And it’s because my English has been improving since 2012, and also because I know that if I want to have a greater impact, I would need to speak a more common idiom and language. When we go to spaces like International Aids Conference, big part of the event is in English, when it’s supposed to be “International”. Translation can be a fundamental key for many people that don’t have the resources to learn an additional idiom, and can improve their participation. However, having translation not necessarily may solve all the issue, since we know that the translation is not 100% accurate, for example in Spanish I can say “hombres que tienen sexo con otros hombres”, which means “men who have sex with other men”, but maybe the translation may say “men who sleep with other men”. It may sound something not important, but when we are talking about declarations that will get the compromise from the governments, between “sex” and “sleep”, there’s a difference.

2. Economic.

This theme can have a couple of layers. We can start by thinking about the number of young people that participate in processes like the High Level Meeting, just for using an example. In this kind of processes you will have many people living with HIV and many allies that don’t live with HIV but somehow, their work is connected with HIV. So, it’s good to ask ourselves, when we talk about participation; participation of who, where and how? We have awesome youth advocates, but how this advocates are representative enough? It’s very common that young advocates who don’t live with HIV, are in this processes because they work (with a salary) in the NGO they
represent. On other hand, is also very common that young people with HIV representing NGO and Networks, are there because they got their participation funded, but in fact, their work is volunteer with no salary at all.

So, when your activism and/or political work is funded is easier to participate, because activism is your work and job, so the time you invest is not your limited and free time, instead, the quality time. Sometimes we go to a meeting or event that may be a week long, and those days are our “vacation” days, that we took from our jobs. But if you’re out of “vacation days” from your job, that week you won’t get paid, and not being pay for a week, can mean not having enough money for paying something as basic like your rent, and the rent is something that we may not want to stop paying.

Definitely working on the HIV response with a salary can allow you to organize better your time and resources. Also, you don’t need to choose between HIV work and your job that pays your basic needs. You can even have a job in a NGO that works something related with HIV or specifically with HIV, but your position doesn’t allow you to take a week of to the High Level Meeting, for example, again. Another example can be the internet access. With better access to internet you can follow better the conversations on real time, help you to build a stronger movement outside your country, gives you more access to information and to respond to the actual communications platforms where you may find a lot of young people you can engage with. If you work in a national, local or in the very grassroots is easier with no internet access, but if you want to engage in a different level, you might need to invest in a good internet access, otherwise, is complicated to follow up. When I say invest, I mean money. You can even go to a Cyber Café, but you will need to at least buy the coffee. This still a huge barrier, I think not specifically of young people but, a lot of activism.

3. Time.

Is much related with economic issues, but in this case is related to the engagement and expertise young people may have. The longer you are engage with the HIV response, more information and experience you MAY have. Even though young people are kind of experts with social media and accessing online information, there are some skills you get with the actual participation which gives you experience. Isn’t just only about having the info, it’s about knowing how, where and when to use it, and sometimes this skills comes with experience. A young person who had the opportunity to be in many spaces, will have more skills on how to use an info, that a young person with less opportunity to be in those spaces, even with the same info.

Experience isn’t necessarily related to age, but with opportunities and the time you spend in activism and participating. But again, if you don’t receive any remuneration, who much time can you expend to have more experience that improve your participation, and by the time you get experienced enough, you might have more than 30 years. The issue here is that, when you are confident enough about your experience and skills, and you have more than 30, the agendas and spaces don’t applies you anymore. This is why we need to engage a whole lot more with adolescents.

About time, is very important to keep in mind that the agendas must me dynamic and scrollable to follow a generation in their different development areas. For example, the UNAIDS 90-90-90 cannot look the same for young people, adolescents and adult people all the way until 2030, because now I’m 28 years old, but in 2030 I will be 42 years old. So, in 2030 I will be a different adult, than today’s adults, and if the agenda don’t respond to my generation, but only to my age, how effective can be?

During the International Aids Conference I had heard a lot about “young women need to raise their voices” and “young women must have a seat at the table”, but once I have my seat at the table, WHAT HAPPEN? Once our voices are up, WHAT WE HAVE TO SAY?

We are more than voices and seats…

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