Monday, December 6, 2010

Guest Post: Building an International Youth Movement for Sex, Rights and Climate Change Solutions in Cancún

Today's guest post comes from Cassie Gardner, a Public Health Student at UCLA, and a previous National Youth Organizer with the Sierra Club. Here she writes about her experience at the International Climate Change Conference in Cancun this past week.

Two weeks ago when I bought my flight to attend the International Climate Change Conference in Cancún Mexico (COP 16), my classmates at my UCLA Masters in Public Health Program thought I was crazy. They knew that I’d worked for nearly four years as a Sierra Club Global Population and Environment Program National Youth Organizer, to advance global women's rights, reproductive health and sustainable development solutions. But what did that have to do with reducing carbon dioxide emissions and increasing communities’ resilience to the economic, health and environmental impacts of climate change around the world?

For the past two years I’ve
worked with friends and colleagues to help design a collaborative policy statement for COP 15 in Copenhagen and COP 16 in Cancún, “Global Youth Support Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights as Just and Equitable Climate Change Solutions.” Co-sponsored by twelve youth leadership, population and reproductive health, and environmental organizations like Advocates for Youth, Population Action International and Sierra Club, this statement makes the case that investing in women's voices and choices-- especially young women in developing countries who are often most vulnera
ble to climate change impacts, having to cope with drought, flooding, disasters and disease-- will help to build more healthy, resilient communities to climate change impacts. Sexual and reproductive health solutions that are also climate change solutions include but are not limited to educating girls and boys, empowering women, ensuring access to comprehensive sexuality education, meeting the demand for voluntary family planning, and strengthening communities’ resilience to climate change impacts—thus empowering people to choose healthy families and a healthy planet.

Over the summer I volunteered for two months with a Youth Leadership in Sexual and Reproductive Health Program in Quintana Roo, Mexico, GoJoven, run by International Health Programs of the Public Health Institute. Working with youth leaders in the environmental, reproductive health, media, NGO and political fields, we strategized their involvement in the International Climate Change Conference (COP 16) from November 29th-December 10th in Cancún, Mexico. In the end we accredited six GoJoven youth leaders to officially attend the conference and more than ten to attend and speak at unofficial side-events like the Conference of Youth and Kilmaforum. While in Cancún, we also attended a PAI-run workshop on “Strengthening the Linkages between Population, Reproductive Health, Gender and Climate Change Resilience” along with youth and adult leaders from the Philippines, India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Nepal. There, we shared ideas and created action plans involving public education, online networking, and social media to take this movement forward leading up to the COP 17 in South Africa next year.

Although I’m a busy graduate student, I’m honored and thrilled to work in collaboration with friends and fellow activist leaders from around the world on global justice, human rights and sustainability issues that I’m passionate about. Now it’s time to return to Los Angeles for my final exams, and to somehow find time for much-needed research, public education and continued coalition-building over the coming year to strengthen these linkages. Ideally by next year we will have built more awareness and identified new leaders for these issues, to have an even greater turn-out for COP 17 in South Africa!

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