Empowering young people to take control of their sexual and reproductive health and rights

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Youth advocacy

Photovoice Myanmar Putting young people most affected by HIV at the centre of policy debates at a local, national, regional and international level is key to changing the structural factors that compound their vulnerability to HIV and other STIs.

Link Up has also engaged with the people who shape and influence the opportunities young people have to lead healthy and fulfilling lives, particularly families and community leaders.

VVPIn Visions, voices and priorities of young people, Link Up youth advocates describe their vision for realising and claiming their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and outline their priorities for doing so.

Download the following Visions, voices and priorities briefs to hear:

Reaching global decision makers

To ensure global policy is informed by the diverse experiences of young people most affected by HIV, Link Up’s global policy partners - Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GYCA), ATHENA Network and STOP AIDS NOW! - have enabled youth advocates from key populations to engage and participate in global policy dialogues around HIV, SRHR, gender and human rights.

Cédric Nininahazwe, who leads Reseau National des Jeunes vivant avec le VIH (RNJ+), a network of young people living with HIV in Burundi, won a Y+ Fellowship that enabled him and his peers to meaningfully engage in the HIV response both nationally and globally.

While the debate on the post 2015 development agenda is still alive and kicking, it is vital that we champion the needs of adolescents, in particular those living with or most at risk of HIV.

 - Cédric Nininahazwe, Executive Director RNJ+. Taken from Our Time To Be Heard, stories about young people's unique experiences of SRHR, gathered by the Key Correspondents network.

Youth advocates have participated in high level policy-making events such as the UN High-Level Youth Dialogues on the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN General Assembly, the Commission on the Status of Women, the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board and the European Commission's Development Days. These activities have emphasised to donors, decision-makers and United Nations agencies the importance of considering young people’s HIV and SRHR needs together.


Making the Global Fund work for young people

This case study explores the advocacy work of Link Up's global policy partners to meaningfully engaging young people in the development of the Global Fund's next five-year strategy, with a focus on national initiatives in Burundi, Myanmar and Uganda.


Empowering young advocates

Through capacity building, technical assistance and mentoring, Link Up policy partners have supported young people to advocate for Global Fund policy and strategy to be youth-friendly and inclusive. Link Up youth advocates have also lobbied for young key populations to be involved in Global Fund decision-making.

Targeted advocacy activities included:

  • Participation by young women from Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda in Women4GlobalFund workshops aimed at engaging women in Global Fund processes and structures.
  • Engagement with Global Fund senior management by youth advocates at various policy forums such as the International Conference on AIDS and STIs.
  • Engagement with UNAIDS, the Global Fund and the PACT in the development of the youth participation tool Making the money work for young people.
  • Participation by youth advocates and policy partners in global consultations in Geneva on the next Global Fund strategy.
  • Advocacy by Uganda youth advocates at regional level consultations on the Global Fund strategy, such as the Anglophone Africa regional platform.

Representing young key populations in Burundi

Two youth advocates - a young transgender woman from Humure, a LGBTI group; and a young woman living with HIV from RNJ+ - are currently sitting on the CCM in Burundi. Humure is currently the leading Link Up youth advocate organisation in Burundi.

Influencing the national strategic plan in Myanmar

Youth advocates have been active in national strategic plan (NSP) technical working groups and other national stakeholder meetings. They successfully pushed for specific language on young key populations rather than ‘all young people’, arguing that youth programmes were not inclusive enough.

Including young people’s priorities in Uganda

The Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV/AIDS (UNYPA), with support from Community Health Alliance Uganda and ATHENA, organised a consultation for young key populations and drew up a young key populations charter, which was presented at a civil society meeting convened by the Uganda Network of AIDS Service Organisations.

Language from the civil society priorities charter was subsequently included in the Uganda Global Fund concept note, specifically around HIV prevention for men who have sex with men and transgender people.


The Global Fund's new strategy looks set to elevate gender equality to the level of a strategic objective, and services for key populations to a strategic vision. There is a focus on young women and adolescent girls under the gender objective, and the strategic vision is “to reduce gender and age disparities in health”: an unanticipated outcome.

This shift cannot be attributed to a single process or event. Nevertheless, Link Up’s advocacy at national, regional and global levels has played a key role in increasing the visibility of young key populations and some of the challenges they face, including accessing SRHR services.

To learn more, read our in-depth case study here.




Influencing national agendas

In Myanmar, young people led the development and implementation of Link Up's national advocacy strategy. Youth advocates in Myanmar sat on government technical working groups, which fed into the Myanmar National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS, and were also involved in developing the National Strategic Plan for Adolescent Health.

...when the general public see my photos it might change their minds. I'm looking forward to reducing stigma and discrimination towards young stigmatised people.      

- Arkar, Myanmar Youth Star

The Myanmar Youth Stars are using photography to challenging the stigma and misconceptions they face - and have become effective advocates and role models in the process.

Mysterious Youth Eyes

Voices of young women who sell sex

This case study from Ethiopia explores how sex worker-led organisation the Nikat Charitable Association is improving young sex workers' lives by combating stigma and discrimination through a popular radio programme.

The context

Although sex work is not illegal in Ethiopia, sex workers have long faced stigma and discrimination.

Almost a quarter of women who sell sex in the country are thought to be living with HIV: a prevalence rate ten times higher than the national average for women. A survey of more than 2,000 Ethiopian women who sell sex found that 71% were aged 15-24, with one in three aged 15-19.

Leading the response

The Nikat Charitable Association is run by current and former sex workers. It facilitates training to raise awareness of sex workers’ rights and needs, disseminates SRHR information and education, operates a drop-in centre that provides free housing and childcare, and runs vocational training programmes. All young women using Nikat’s services are aged 15-30 and most are 24 or below.

Amplifying voices

Through Link Up, Nikat worked with Erkab Media and Communication on Betengna, a radio show named after the Amharic word for a visitor who is welcome in one’s home, visits frequently, and feels comfortable speaking about any issue. Through an intimate 'diarist' approach, in which young women who sell sex share their personal stories and experiences directly with the audience, the programme aims to forge an understanding of sex workers' lives. Many clients, and other people sex workers interact with such as taxi drivers and hotel workers, listen to the show.

Transforming attitudes

Through Betengna Nikat has amplified the voices of young women who sell sex to engage with decision-makers in their communities, and has provided a space for them to share their experiences and needs (particularly around SRHR), challenge harmful norms, and advocate for social inclusion and positive change.

Nikat’s goal - that decision-makers and media representatives engage with female sex workers and young women who sell sex and commit to prioritising their needs - is being met, and indeed, surpassed. Changes include:

Increased referrals and improved access to SRHR and HIV services delivered by government health service providers: Government health workers have increasingly referred sex workers to benefit from Nikat’s services, particularly vocational training and education, housing and health service referrals. Some sex workers reported a reduction in discrimination at certain government health clinics due to the programme.

Strengthened NGO health service provider partnership and referrals: Nikat is currently setting up a referral system with Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia, one of Link Up Ethiopia’s primary providers of SRHR care, for clinics that are exclusively for sex workers.

Increased responsiveness and partnership with local police: Sex workers at Nikat said they felt more able to tell the police about assault and robbery experienced while selling sex, with some describing local police as being less discriminatory towards them. Nikat now has regular contact with around 40 police officers who they consider advocates and allies. In addition, local police have begun to work directly with street-based sex workers as informants and will warn them when large events are being held that may result in sweeping arrests of street-based sex workers.

The radio programme has helped address discriminatory beliefs about sex workers and Nikat. For example, many local people felt uncomfortable with Nikat’s presence. Due to the radio show, they have visited and learned more about the valuable role Nikat plays in the community. Hotel and other business owners have also approached Nikat, offering employment, internships, high school scholarships and support for other vocational skills.

To learn more, read the in-depth case study here.

Advocacy work: level by level

Social media debates

Exploring the social media debates surrounding Link Up.