As a member of the recently formed Youth Council of the family planning association, an opportunity arose for me to apply to the YSAFE annual meeting, which focused this year on sexual health and rights advocacy.
I jumped at the chance of a weekend in Brussels, at least if nothing else came from it I would at least get a chance to talk about sex all weekend and sample some Belgian beers. As much as I was looking forward to the meeting, I never realised it would be as inspiring and invigorating as it proved to be.
I arrived a day early and used the evening off as a chance to get to know the other delegates before work in earnest began the following morning. I am a medic, and as other medics know, it’s easy to forget that life exists outside medicine. It was so refreshing to sit and eat dinner with people with such a wealth of experience so different from my own. From social work to civil engineering, every member of YSAFE had a different background and something new to bring to the table.
The meeting opened formally on Friday morning, and we quickly eased into the swing of things. A particular highlight for me that day was a talk on countering opposition, which focussed on how subtle changes in wording can change the nuance of a message for better or worse, and how important the ‘framing’ of your message is in getting others on board. Saturday morning had us practicing our ‘elevator pitches’, a rehearsal of how best to represent our member associations and ask for support with what we believe in from a busy and important senior figure. Interspersed with lectures from SRHR advocates were hour-long sessions of group work where we talked through issues affecting our respective home countries. We tackled issues like how best to work with demanding MAs, where the current challenges lie and how to best overcome them. I am passionate about sex and relationships, and health and rights, but I am also an ardent feminist and a firm believer that everyone is deserving of quality healthcare. Although my primary focus was SRHR, on this weekend, I’m excited to put everything I’ve learnt into practice in other areas of my life.
Brainstorming ideas with the other delegates gave me fresh insight into just how different other healthcare systems are, as well as highlighting particular success stories in SRHR advocacy, as well as areas that still need to be improved. The similarities and differences between our countries wasn’t something I’d given much thought to previously, and I’m grateful to the other participants for broadening my horizons.
I got more than I bargained for when I signed up for this weekend. I knew I’d come away having learnt something but I didn’t think I’d get 3 nights of socials with people likeminded enough to get on with but different enough to keep things interesting. I also didn’t think I’d come away with so many ideas about how to carry all this new information forward into practice, as well as a skill set I hope I can apply as a future doctor and health and rights advocate. The real highlight of the weekend was the people I met, who passed on enough inspiration and passion for me to feel completely rebooted and even more excited about working for sexual rights and health for all.