Looking back: Sanne thijssen on her time as a youth ambassador
When a year ago I assumed the role as the Dutch Youth Ambassador for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), I had the perfect mix of ambition, hope and a little bit of naivety. I had carefully mapped out my big plans to improve meaningful youth participation and my two focus areas: universal access to youth-friendly services and SRHR in Humanitarian Settings.
A reality check
One year later, on the brink of my handover, I realise that this role has made me a bit more of a realist. This opportunity to learn and advocate without many of the limitations young people face when addressing SRHR, has been wonderful, but has also provided me with a reality check. My meetings with international youth, governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) along with my engagements in the Netherlands and on international platforms, have shown me both the incredible achievements on SRHR but also confronted me with a lot of harsh truths that still need to be addressed. In order to tackle current challenges – such as the influence of the Global Gag rule – increasing and strengthening collaboration on youth and SRHR is needed. Therefore, I would like to provide three key recommendations for governments and civil society organizations to improve collaboration on youth and SRHR issues.
Firstly, governments and CSOs need to be critical of their definition and implementation of Meaningful Youth Participation (MYP). The past year, I have noticed that many governments and CSOs are enthusiastic and willing to implement MYP as a core focus. However they lack insight on the essence of MYP, and therefore do not fully reach comprehensive MYP implementation. Merely placing youth as a focus area, or having young people in the office is not enough. By investing time to get information on MYP and being critical of how youth are involved, steps can be made to ensure that MYP is not merely a ‘hot issue’ or empty term. One resource for understanding and implementing MYP is CHOICE’s Flower of Participation. Former Youth Ambassador Lotte Dijkstra has also developed recommendations for the advancement of youth participation at the end of her term.
Leave no-one behind
Secondly, I would like to urge governments and CSOs to show leadership by working together and investing in equal alliances, networks and platforms. The field of SRHR is unique as it addresses a wide range of issues at a multitude of levels with numerous stakeholders. Alliances and networks have combined action on an array of issues that address youth’s needs -from access to safe abortion to safeguarding LGBTI+ rights. The tight-knight SRHR community I have been lucky to meet, is filled with passion and eagerness to excel. However, during my term, I have noticed that not all structures allow room for equal input and feedback by all stakeholders. Many times leadership is shown as ‘taking the lead’, however in all the ambition, other partners may be unintentionally left behind and desired results may therefore be lost. Improving power relations in alliances and networks, creates an enabling environment for input and feedback, and additionally provides a stronger unit for advocacy. An inclusive approach to alliances and networks, benefits local youth best, as it ensures that their concerns can be heard more clearly.
Innovate, innovate, innovate
Last but not least, I would like to urge governments and CSOs to grab hold of new opportunities. When discussing youth, it is vital to look at novel approaches. Whether it be working with private organizations, introducing new technologies of making radical changes, SRHR needs to keep renewing itself when facing new challenges. Not only is it young people’s right to be involved in these new initiatives but by placing them in the center of these developments, young people’s potential can be tapped into: hereby creating change and proving new inspiring insights.
I strongly believe that these recommendations can accelerate the ongoing progress on youth and SRHR issues I have seen. That being said, I would like to take this moment to thank all the wonderful youth-led organizations, international organizations, governments and others, that I have had the pleasure of working with during the past year. It has been an honour to link up and get inspired by all, whether it be during my daily visits to the ministry, at the CPD and HLPF in New York, or during one of my visits to partner countries. Thank you.
Written by Sanne Thijssen
Sanne Thijssen was the Youth Ambassador for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for 2016-2017. You can read more about her work as an ambassador. Today we will welcome the new Youth Ambassador, Melodi Tamarzians! Keep up with her on her Facebook page.