The world is moving towards defining a new development agenda beyond the Millennium Development Goals that expire in 2015. I have an idea that can change the philosophy on how we can end AIDS in the next 15 years. My strategy is simple.. ‘Invigorating Young People’s Leadership’
Young people aged 15 to 24 years are our first window of opportunity, if we build their capacity and give them sufficient space then they will have the strength to push for change in the existing legal, cultural and religious environment. Young people have the potential to lobby government and challenge religious and cultural institutions to facilitate the creation of a safe environment for children and youth to develop. Through increased youth engagement we can end child marriage, ensure delivery of comprehensive sexuality education and create demand in young people for essential services like HIV Testing and Counselling.
Young people aged 15 to 24 are also current and future parents as they reach reproductive ages. As parents, they have the power to educate their children in a way that opens their mind to possibilities and counters existing negative social norms like stigma against people living with HIV. Young parents can raise a new stigma-free, proactive generation of children who will carry the mantle beyond the current crop of young leaders 15 years from now.
Young people are not a mere demographic constituency whose magnitude forces us to pay attention to their needs, youth are capable stakeholders who hold the key to the future of the HIV/AIDS response. Young men and women today will be key decision makers tomorrow, engaging them now secures them as an ally for work tomorrow. I for one am planning to be the Minister of Youth in the next decade and to be the Head of State by 2030… If I win, you’ll definitely want me on your side.
Notwithstanding the need for stakeholder endorsement of invigorating young people’s leadership, we must take responsibility and claim our space as young people. As Mbulawa Mugabe, the Regional Deputy Director for UNAIDS ESA said “if young people don’t act on the challenge of HIV/AIDS today, they will be forced to deal with it in future”. As young leaders we must take ownership of our own agenda, we must create space, claim existing space and make meaningful use of it. Let’s shape our future now, this is our generation and we can #endAIDS #post2015.