On September 24-25, 2013, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and 30 Guatemalan civil society groups welcomed more than 200 youth from all over the country as participants in that country’s first youth summit on adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH). The event marked an important benchmark for coordinated youth advocacy with political leaders on ASRH in Guatemala, and also offers lessons beyond Guatemala for improving meaningful participation of youth in debates about adolescent and youth sexuality.
This project affirms the importance of bringing high-level decision makers into contact with adolescents in order to advance ASRH. The follow up since the summit has been particularly meaningful, including:
• Youth participation with the Ministry of Health in the definition of parameters for the delivery of youth-friendly services;
• Relationships established between youth and local Ministry of Health and municipality officials in six regions, and local summits held in two states;
• Heightened donor interest in youth-led advocacy on ASRH;
• Increased collaboration among youth-led and youth-serving civil society organizations on ASRH.
Some of the critical lessons learned during the project are:
• Local Control: Guatemalan civil society partners and Guatemalan consultants to CHANGE had a great deal of control over the scope and content of the event, generating increased possibilities for sustainability.
• Impartial Convening: CHANGE’s role as an outside and impartial convener ensured buy-in from diverse organizations.
• Resources for Meeting Convening: With competition over scarce donor resources in Guatemala, particularly for advocacy, resources provided through CHANGE to bring groups together for meetings was essential.
• Advocacy expertise: Local partners reported that complementing local-level engagement with high-level engagement of donors and Guatemalan ministry officials contributed substantially to the success of the event, and trainings led by CHANGE and Guatemalan partners improved advocacy messaging.
• Implementation of donor policies: Donor policies promoting ASRH programming and youth participation are unlikely to be implemented unless they are adequately resourced and incorporated into planning processes.
As shown in Guatemala, with sufficient motivation, resources, and tools, youth-serving civil society organizations can successfully overcome barriers that divide young people from political leaders, generating important shifts in policy and implementation. Sustained mobilization of youth voices at the national and local level requires donor support, civil society cohesion, and capacity-building opportunities for young leaders. The required passion and commitment from young people is fortunately in abundant supply.