|Remarks by Nicole Bidegain, REDLAC|
Meeting Global Challenges: Healthy Women, Healthy World
|Nicole Bidegain of REDLAC addresses the crowd.|
It wasn't until I got older that I realized that the rest of the world wasn't like my family. So, at the age of fourteen, I became an activist. My parents are both very active in political life, but they never told me what to do or think—and they still don't. I decided to come here tonight without asking my mother's permission, but I did make one request: I wanted her to come with me, and luckily, she said yes.
When I was sixteen, I joined REDLAC, the Latin American and Caribbean Youth Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. REDLAC is made up of young people from fifteen countries in Latin America, working locally and regionally to promote sexual and reproductive rights.
Tonight, I want to talk to you about three of REDLAC's current priorities. The first is sexual citizenship. The second is the importance of including men in our efforts to achieve gender equality. The third is to ensure that young people's participation be recognized and taken seriously.
First, sexual citizenship: What does it mean to be a citizen? That you can vote? Buy a home? Own a car? Well, it means all of those things. But at REDLAC, we think it means a lot more. We think citizenship is a process that begins the day we are born and continues throughout our lives. Our bodies are the first place where we exercise our citizenship. If we can't enjoy our sexuality, if we can't ask our partner to use a condom, if we can't think of motherhood as a choice rather than a destiny, then our citizenship is incomplete. This is why we say that citizenship is sexual. To have a true democracy, we must have sexual citizenship as well.
In order to accomplish this, we have to achieve our second goal, which is to include men in our efforts. We must reach out to young men who are capable of understanding and enriching the vision and the goals of the feminist movement.
This means recognizing that gender inequality oppresses men, too. Fathers still tell their sons that homosexuality is a disease. Boys are still encouraged to use violence to resolve their conflicts. We all believe in a girl's right to say "no" to sex if she's doesn't feel ready, but what about a boy who doesn't feel ready? Shouldn't he be able to say "no" too?
Achieving true equality means moving beyond these narrow definitions of gender and giving girls and boys the freedom to be themselves. I have seen firsthand in REDLAC that young men can and must become part of the solution.
Which brings me to our third goal: to recognize the participation of all young people. Many adults say that young people aren't participating, that we aren't interested in what happens in the world. But at REDLAC, we have always understood that the real problem is not that young people aren't participating—it's that our participation is not recognized.
Young people are a diverse group. Some of us fight for our rights at the United Nations, others of us would rather work in our own communities, still others feel comfortable expressing ourselves through music or art.
Therefore, the critical task of our youth network is to empower young people politically. We must ensure that our demands reach the adults who are making policy decisions and setting funding priorities. This requires both adults and young people to adopt a more tolerant and inclusive attitude about different ways young people can participate. I'm sure that adopting this attitude will have positive consequences for our movement. We know that the more diverse our messages, the more people we will reach.
For example, this past year in Uruguay, our youth network launched what we called a "safe pleasure" initiative. We gave out condom carrying cases which we call "condoneras." Each condonera contains one condom, information about HIV/AIDS, and a list of places where you can get condoms for free. The condoneras are printed with one of two slogans: "I carry a condom," or "safe pleasure." They can be worn on your belt, on your keychain, or on your bag, where everyone can see them.
|Nicole Bidegain holds up two condoneras during her address.|
Beyond encouraging safe sex, carrying these condoneras gives young people the opportunity to make a political statement. Whether you are a man or a woman, carrying these condoneras says, "I have a right to pleasure, as well as a responsibility to take care of my partner and myself."
We gave out six hundred of these condoneras in Montevideo on December tenth, the international day for human rights. All day and night we traveled around the city to places where young people congregate—bars, clubs, cafes—performing a street theater piece starring an egg, a sperm, and a condom. As we traveled around the city, more and more young people joined in the performance. And at the end of the night, we had given away all the condoneras. So we're making a thousand more.
Then, just last week, I saw a boy and girl about my age on the bus. The boy was wearing one of the condoneras on his belt. As an activist, I was happy to see this because it meant that our campaign was a success. And when they got off the bus, I noticed that the girl was also wearing a condonera. And this made me even happier. As I saw the two of them walking down the street, I realized we had changed a little piece of the world. This boy and girl were respecting each others' rights. They understood that they had a mutual responsibility to take care of each other.
My generation is changing the world—not just for the future, but also for our lives today.
Thank you very much.