I was invited to attend the BZgA conference on sexuality education developments in Berlin, held in May this year. After a quick skim through the programme for the two days over which it ran I decided I could pick up some useful information for my organisation, Sexpression UK, who work on a voluntary basis delivering near-to-peer sexuality education across schools and university campuses. Perhaps more importantly I realised the opportunity that the youth delegation had to champion our causes and share our valuable insight with the other attendees. Sexpression is associated with the organization YSAFE, which is made up of a network of uniquely inspiring individuals, each with a fresh perspective on SRHR and the voices of youth in their own country to bring forward.
On the first day I was given the opportunity to speak on a panel about the linkages between sexuality education and the provision of healthcare. Every member of the youth delegation on that panel came forward with fresh suggestions on how to improve the current situation and anecdotal evidence on what has worked and what hasn’t in the past. For me, the issue of using the correct language in sexuality education is an important one, we discussed what terminology should be used around youth and how best to encourage them to access services provided for their benefit. Since the panel I have been in contact with a member of the audience, helping to clarify points, providing suggestions as to how she could make her own services ‘youth friendly’, and giving her information from my peers at Sexpression that she will pass to other medical professionals in training.
A highlight for me was the keynote speech on the opening of the first day, where Dr Gunta Lazdane discussed the current situation regarding sexuality education and its successes and shortfalls across Europe. Being British, I sometimes feel that my peers and I are woefully ignorant of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues (and indeed human rights issues) in wider Europe. Perhaps because we are separated by sea, or perhaps just because of general lack of knowledge about our friends on the continent (compounded no doubt by Brexit). It was interesting to learn how we compare to other countries, what we do well and what we need to improve. The issue of teenage pregnancy in the UK was raised, an issue I have been aware of since my involvement in sex education began, and one that I hope by the time I leave the field will be much reduced!
The evening of the first day saw dinner and drinks, and then dancing for those that could still move after so much food, then back to our hotels to rest before the second day, which focussed more heavily on discussion and sharing of best practices and lessons learned. The ‘world café’ and fishbowl discussions let everyone contribute and dip in and out of the debate so that a range of country representatives got their viewpoints heard. I was particularly proud of my friends on the youth delegation during the closing notes, our successful participation was mentioned several times and our own representative Sharaf, a youth delegate from Tajikistan, gave a short closing speech with our recommendations for the future of sexuality education. I hope sincerely that the successful engagement of YSAFE with the conference (with added extras such as our drop-in ‘youth corner’ during lunch hour) will encourage conference organisers to consistently make space for youth voices in the future.