“Do you think just this one video clip will make the change in disabled young people’s sexual health?” a disability rights activists asked me, doubtfully, when I was collecting her story for my advocacy video. Her doubt was justifiable in a way. One video may not have the power to completely change the world and how people think. However, we believe this video will make people think. This is the first step towards destroying the stereotypes and stigma surrounding the sexuality of young people with disabilities. They are normal, just like the rest of us, and have the same needs. However, there are certain barriers that prevent them from living a normal life. These issues need to be addressed.
A lot of people say that online campaigns are not effective. The reason for this may be because most people are merely “online warriors” who do not do much in non-virtual world to support their on-line activism. The idea of this project is to turn online warriors into offline activists. We need a multi-sectoral approach to make a change in people’s heart and create pressure at the policy level. Through this project, we are trying to initiate social dialogues.
I don’t want to do a one off, ad hoc project. I want to make sure that this project is sustainable and has a lasting impact. I wanted the video we create to be the start, not the end of the project. While exploring the opportunities to partner with another organization, I came across the International Youth Alliance for Peace (IYAP). IYAP is a community-based organization founded to support youth-led projects that promote sustainable peace and development using sports, tourism, and cultural exchange among other community activities. IYAP aims to create a community of youth leaders worldwide who work together towards building a peaceful world which is united against bias.
Currently, the IYAP is working on an exciting project called the “Ability Forum” which focuses on rights for all, regardless of disability. The initial media launch for this initiative will be November 7th. The objective of this forum is to convene high-level government officials, nonprofit and civil society organizations, and young disability rights activists to promote policy-level change and effective implementation of programs to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Health, specifically sexual health and rights of people with disabilities, will be a central focus of the forum. The Ability Forum will be the ideal opportunity to launch my WCD project.
Even though I have worked as an SRH youth advocate internationally for many years, one thing I have realized is how much I don’t know about the SRH of young people with disabilities in Sri Lanka. What are their challenges? What are their real needs? What are their thoughts on the subject? These are largely unanswered questions that many people don’t feel comfortable asking. One of the eye-openers I have had while working on this project was when one disability rights activist told me that he had learned about sexual health from his mother. He was fortunate enough to have such an understanding parent. But unfortunately, most young people regardless of ability do not learn about SRH from their parents, because talking about such subjects is considered taboo in our society.
The greatest thing this project has taught me is patience. Producing a digital story about the sexual and reproductive health of young people with disabilities is not an easy task. Moreover, coordinating this project while being employed with a full-time job is challenging, but the encouragement I have received from the IYAP and young people with disabilities has been amazing. The Ability Forum will be a landmark event for young people’s disability rights activism. We are confident that it will help bring about a change, the impact of which will be amplified by the collaboration between IYAP and my WCD project. Furthermore, we are certain that this alliance will attract an international audience and generate support across the world, helping us provide a global voice to those who battle in silence.
About World Contraception Day:
In support of World Contraception Day and Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, Women Deliver and Bayer will work in partnership on a three-year World Contraception Day (WCD) Ambassadors Project. The project equips young people with the skills they need to collect and share digital stories about young people’s SRHR and access to contraception in their home countries. The project includes a storytelling and digital media training, a seed grant, and advocacy opportunities for the Ambassadors to showcase their work at the international level.