|What Do We Owe Young People?|
Summary: Statement by Beth Fredrick, Executive Vice President, the International Women’s Health Coalition. Remarks for Congressional Briefing— Global Youth: A Strategic Investment. March 3, 2009
My task today is to connect the remarks of my colleagues on the panel to specific actions that the U.S. government can take to ensure the health and wellbeing of the world's young people. As often is the case, I gained insight into the issue in the cab ride here. The driver asked what I was doing with Congress today and I told him that I was asked to speak on what we owe the world's young people. Without missing a beat, he said, "That's easy. A clean environment, a good education and freedom." It is that freedom that we are here to discuss with you today. The freedom for young people to make informed, supported choices about their own lives.
As you have heard from the other speakers there are more than 1.5 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 living in the world today, the largest generation ever.
How do we make these young people our allies? How do we ensure their ability to contribute to global prosperity? What can we learn from their inspiration?
We are at a historic moment. Not only do we have the largest generation of youth, but young people's lives are increasingly shaped by a trend towards democracy and the rise of civil society, giving them increased opportunities to participate in local and national decision making. We have a new Congress and a new President committed to reenergizing U.S. leadership on human rights and restructuring foreign assistance to better serve those in need. We have global momentum on key multilateral initiatives to which the United States government has already pledged its support:
It is our obligation to seize this opportunity and consensus to create a better future for the next generation. As you have heard from Andre and Ishita, while young people are mobilizing to create lasting change, they face many threats to their health and well-being. HIV/AIDS is perhaps the most well known example, but the specifics for young people are less well known.
Last summer, I visited Swaziland, a small country embedded with in South Africa, and with the world's highest HIV prevalence. The epidemic there is permanently altering the structure of Swazi society. The likelihood of reaching 40 in Swaziland has steadily decreased from 80 percent in 1997 to about 30 percent in 2000. If we don't act now, in 2050, less than 20 percent of young women will reach the age of 40. If we don't act now, deaths from AIDS will leave Swaziland with nearly no men and women over 30. This is not freedom. This is a perversion of freedom and a cruelty that can be avoided.
What can be done: Now is the time to re-brand the United States as a global force for security, the protection of human rights and investment in young people. There are several high-impact actions that the Administration and Congress can take in support of the health and human rights of young people. Many actions will not require a lot of new money, but will help spend appropriated funds more effectively and also mobilize other donors and national governments to meet the needs of young people.
If we are to see lasting change-a world in which women and men are healthy and their human rights are protected-then we must ensure young people have access to the tools and information they need to lead healthy, productive lives. We at the International Women's Health Coalition support programs for young people that are reaching national scale in Nigeria, Cameroun, Pakistan, Brazil and Peru.
The cosponsors of this briefing, Advocates for Youth, and Andre and Ishita, know similar programs that provide full and accurate information and access to health services, including lifesaving contraception. They help young people learn the skills needed for equality and mutual respect in sex and marriage. These programs are the foundations for healthy lives, free from violence, sexual coercion and discrimination and are crucial for a sustainable and secure world.
Integrating comprehensive sexuality education into existing programs and legislation is an example of reallocating foreign assistance money to get the greatest impact-a no-cost fix that could save lives and make better use of scarce public resources.
Moving forward, we have the opportunity to implement the President's Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief to give young people what they need to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. We have the opportunity to ensure that policies are based on science, not ideology. We have the opportunity to engage youth as partners in ensuring a secure, just and healthy world.
Meanwhile, the International Women's Health Coalition and Advocates for Youth are committed to working with members of Congress and the Executive Branch to ensure that young leaders like Andre and Ishita inform solid policy decisions that guide the next generation to a just and healthy life.
The cost of not doing so is too great and the returns on taking action are priceless.