Empowered Young People – What, Why and How

July 30, 2017

An empowered young person has the ability to bring positive change. For this reason, empowered young people have a crucial role in the AIDS response. What does it mean to be empowered and what is needed to empower young people?

Empowerment according empowered young people

“We learned to stand up for ourselves and to be a role model for others. The moment I heard my name, I felt so proud. I really believe in myself and in my future. As Ms Y+ I can inspire other young people living with HIV to realise their dreams.” – Tryphena, 18 years old, Uganda, winner beauty contest for young people living with HIV.

Tryphena’s story is a story of hopes and dreams, but mostly, it is a story of youth empowerment. Empowered young people are able to make informed choices and participate within the social, economic, and political context of their own lives. Like Tryphena, an empowered young person has the ability to bring positive change. For this reason, empowered young people have a crucial role in the AIDS response.

Why empowered youth are key in reducing new HIV infections and ending AIDS

“Because youths are shy to freely talk about their SRHR issues with adults, having youth representatives will enable them to share their views with their representatives who can address these factors at a higher level” -Youth representative, Kenya

Meaningfully engaging young people in SRHR programs is key in achieving program outcomes, including reducing new HIV infections and ending AIDS.

  • Young people often feel more comfortable discussing personal issues – especially with regards to sexuality – with their peers.
  • Meaningfully engaging young people will make any SRHR program more responsive to young people’s needs, since young people themselves know best what they need and how they need it.
  • We know that in reality, many young people are having sex and lack information how they can protect themselves and their partners from getting HIV. Therefore, it is crucially important to empower young people to make their own well-informed choices.  
  • To be able to make such informed choices, economic empowerment often is a precondition as well.  Relationships between young women and older male partners are still common and are associated with unsafe sex. Financial independence makes that young women do not depend on older men anymore and thereby reduces their risks to attract HIV.

What we do!

Aidsfonds supports young people living with HIV (YPLHIV) networks by lobbying for increased support and financial investments in YPLHIV networks, and by working together with such networks in order to strengthen their capacity. Last April for example, Aidsfonds, together with Y+ (the Global Network of Young People living with HIV), International HIV/AIDS Alliance and PATA (Pediatric AIDS Treatment Africa), co-organized a YPLHIV networks meeting in which 11 African national networks participated. This meeting helped amongst others to strengthen the capacity of emerging networks through peer support and to develop a joint vision and work plan. Being part of a network can be empowering, one member mentioned: “Now I understand what a network is. I feel very much supported”.

Aidsfonds also joins forces with other organizations and works together in coalitions on various programs. In the Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV Response (PITCH) program, Aidsfonds works together with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in countries that are most affected by HIV. A major part of this program focusses on strengthen local youth organizations and YPLHIV networks to advocate for equal access to HIV and sexual and reproductive health-related services.  The Get Up, Speak Out – for youth rights (GUSO) program aims to improve the SRHR of young people and has a strong focus on making young people meaningfully participate in their countries as well as in all levels of the program, from the set up to the decision making, and from members of the steering committee to community volunteers. Young people are empowered to formulate what they need and how they want to receive information and services. Hereby the quality, access and availability of SRH services such as HIV prevention will be improved.

In the DREAMS – Sparked Women program, Aidsfonds, together with partners in Uganda, works on tackling high unemployment rates among girls and young women by offering them employment opportunities as micro-entrepreneur. This empowering approach contributes to increased income and self-confidence and enables them to make saver (sexual) health choices leading to reduced HIV-related risk behaviors such as transactional sex.