The Youth Force is a global platform for young people to take part in the International AIDS Conference, not only as delegates but also as activity organizers, youth advocates and leaders. This year the Youth Force is hosted by LetsStopAIDS and is made up of 55 individuals representing over 18 countries. It is a collective of over 12 local and international youth-led and youth-serving AIDS Service organizations that are committed to creating a safe space for young people at the conference.
In 2000, there were only a handful of young people at the International AIDS conference. After a speech made by Nkosi Johnson, aged 11, ‘youth’ was recognized as an important stakeholder in the HIV response. The YouthForce initiative was formed after his death in 2001, as a response to the lack of support for young people.
Laws and policies need to reflect our diverse needs. This starts with our voices being heard and valued.
Young people deserve a seat at the table when decisions affect our lives. We need meaningful participation at all stages and levels of policy-making processes. Funders have to actively invest in community leaders.
Young people are not just one homogeneous group, we are strong in our diversity. We experience many different realities, including: we live with HIV, we identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and/or queer (LGBTIQ+), we are women, we are sex workers, we use drugs, we live with disabilities, we are people of color, we live in poverty, we are migrants and/or displaced. Our struggle is interconnected, our identities are intersectional and we can belong to more marginalized groups at the same time. Laws and policies need to reflect our diverse needs and this starts with our voices being heard and valued.
Through quality services and information, we can make informed choices about our health.
As young people, we need to be able to make informed decisions about our sexuality and health. To make these choices, we need access to quality services and information. This includes access to HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention, sexual and reproductive health services, mental health support, and harm reduction for people who use drugs.
Comprehensive sexuality education, both in and out of schools, can save lives. Health systems need to be strengthened in order to meet the diverse needs of young people.
The HIV response is a human rights response.
We demand justice to end stigma and discrimination.
Human rights and gender equality need to be at the center of the HIV and AIDS response. Policymakers and other people in power need to act boldly to end stigma, discrimination and criminalization. The COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened inequalities, making marginalized groups even more vulnerable. Inclusive economic development is a precondition for social justice. We need to live our lives free of poverty and violence. Especially sexual and gender-based violence and forced sterilizations of women living with HIV have to end.