Jona Turalde, Youth Advocate, speaking at the Global Citizens’ Dialogue at the 70th World Health Assembly.

Adolescents Are The Catalysts of Change

The Power of 1.8 Billion Youth Must Be Heard

The Global Citizens’ Dialogue gives citizens a platform to voice their concerns, solutions, and criticisms. This blog series presents highlights from the 3rd Annual Global Citizens’ Dialogue, which was held during the 70th World Health Assembly and brought together adolescents and youth from Bolivia, Nepal, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda and the Philippines with health ministers and other leaders.

I am Jona Turalde, 19, from the Philippines.

Since I was 16 years old, I have been very active in advocating for youth policy in my country. I have met a lot of young people who are also advocates — and one of them became a very close friend. He has been my partner in almost every advocacy and voluntary work that we both do. He is also HIV+.

He has always been very active in lobbying and advocating for sexual and reproductive health in the Philippines. It was a turning point for me when I first learned about him being HIV+ and witnessed his daily struggles. I realized the need to further amplify voices like his, and to ensure that the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) situation in my country was recognized.

Without a full commitment of the government to SRHR, the 30 Filipinos per day who are infected with HIV will continue to increase. In our country, adolescents below 18 years old aren’t allowed to test for HIV without parental consent.

How can someone even say to his/her parents that he/she is having sex, if the very holy society that we’re living in dictates that any form of sexual activity at a young age is a way of committing a sin to God? How much more if you suspect that you do have HIV? Teenagers like us really feel that people will judge us if we ask for contraceptives and pregnancy tests in public health care clinics.

Attendees at the Global Citizens’ Dialogue at the World Health Assembly. Photo Credit: Oliver O’Hanlon.

I have a cousin who got pregnant at the age of 16 because she was raped. However, she couldn’t have an abortion because this is a serious crime in the Philippines. Her story is just one of the increasing number of unwanted adolescent pregnancies in the Philippines. The UN Population Fund notes that the Philippines is the only country in the Asia-Pacific region where the rate of teen pregnancies rose over the last 20 years. How can a society of dominating conservatism be able to even understand the situations of these teenage girls?

These are only some of the stories of young Filipinos unheard and unrecognized because SRHR is perceived to be a taboo subject of discussion in the Philippines. This is what motivates me to strengthen the need to mainstream SRHR, and the need of fully implementing the Reproductive Health (RH)Law and Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in schools.

Through a project called ACT!2030 we have been working with IPPF and UNAIDS to establish mechanisms for youth led accountability around the 2030 Agenda for HIV and SRHR. We have an upcoming Youth Data Reporters Program, where young people will be doing research and gathering their own data on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and the needs of young people for adolescent and youth-friendly services, and using this data to hold governments accountable.

Locally, we participate in the planning of the AIDS Medium Term Plan of the Philippine Government by giving a voice to the young, affected populations. We are also working with the Department of Health on adolescent SRHR and advocating for sustainable engagement of young people. Through these initiatives, the Philippine AIDS Law was amended, particularly on the age restriction in terms of accessing HIV testing and services. This will serve as a genuine move to further mainstream the need of a definite SRHR in my country. Another success is that the Philippine government issued an Executive Order that ensures investment in the full implementation of the RH Law by integrating participation of many Philippine government agencies.

Jona advocating for comprehensive SRHR at the Global Citizens’ Dialogue during the 2017 World Health Assembly.

We call on teachers, social workers, and guidance counselors as allies in mainstreaming CSE in schools and pushing the Department of Health, Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health National Implementation Team, National Youth Commission and Department of Education to work together in the full implementation of Comprehensive Sexuality Education in the Philippines.

The power of 1.8 billion youth must be heard and felt by the ruling generation. Adolescents are the catalysts of change. We, youth and adolescents, can draft policies, participate in consultations and be involved in the implementation of programs. Youth involvement is a cost-effective and strategic investment in the long run. We are the experts of ourselves as we see, feel, and experience our own problems and our own aspirations. We can give and articulate a youth perspective on issues — especially on healthcare.

I, Jona Turalde, together with my fellow youth advocates, fully-realized and enlightened of young people’s healthcare, now demand youth friendly, quality SRHR services and healthcare for all, as we stand from the youth, by the youth, and for the youth, that shall inherit this earth.

In 2014, a group of civil society organizations, including World Vision, Save the Children, White Ribbon Alliance and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, began working together to advance citizen engagement and citizen-led accountability for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at local, national and global levels. Since then, the Coalition has supported more than a thousand citizen hearings in more than 22 countries across the world, giving citizens the opportunity to be heard on matters about their own health, and share their recommendations for how health care can be improved in their community, district and country.

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Inspiring and convening advocates to uphold the right of all women to be safe and healthy before, during and after pregnancy.