Led by young men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender (TG) people, Youth Voices Count (YVC) brings together young community leaders in Asia and the Pacific to address issues related to HIV, health, and human rights through capacity building, advocacy, and community mobilisation within the young MSM and TG communities in the region. It was founded in 2010 as a result of an inaugural consultation in Bangkok, Thailand that brought together more than 40 young MSM and TG from across the region to discuss key issues that they face in their communities.
With advocacy as one of the network's main emphases since its inception, YVC is particularly committed to addressing the HIV, health, and human rights issues faced by young MSM and young TG people that require engendering systematic change. As detailed within this advocacy strategy document [PDF], YVC's advocacy is driven by the issues identified by YVC members in their communities, with a focus on 3 priorities: addressing self-stigma and its linkages to HIV through pushing for enhanced programmatic responses, increasing uptake of HIV prevention and treatment programmes, and countering the broader social stigma and discrimination that impact young MSM's and young TG persons' health outcomes. The network works at the community, national, and regional levels to leverage its collective strengths towards change. Advocacy methods and specific issues are tailored to national contexts whenever possible.
- The Secretariat in Bangkok acts as a hub that collates and generates knowledge, initiates community research, offers policy suggestions, and undertakes strategic communications, always striving for full and active collaboration and consultation with in-country members. Actions are informed by YVC's belief in the power of social media and new technology in reaching young people, raising their awareness, and involving them in advocacy. See the YVC website and YVC Facebook page for more information.
- YVC members are enabled to undertake local and national advocacy efforts through developing their skills, leadership, and collaborations with other organisations.
- A culture of evaluation, critical reflection, and accountability across the network ensures constant learning about advocacy, strategic network evolution, and its young members making decisions. This approach is envisioned as a simple cycle in which the issues identified as critical by YVC members inform and complement both national and regional advocacy strategies and activities.
YVC members have been vocal in advocating on behalf of young MSM and young TG people at national, regional, and global levels. YVC has reached out to 19 countries in Asia-Pacific and recruited more than 50 young MSM and TG community leaders in order to leverage meaningful participation of young MSM and young TG people at national, regional, and global fora. Consultations with members have been convened annually to identify issues and address them through inter-country collaboration. YVC has also worked to strengthen and highlight the voices of young MSM and young TG persons at regional and global conferences such as the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in Busan, South Korea in 2011 and Bangkok in 2013, as well as the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC, United States in 2012 and Melbourne, Australia in 2014. YVC members participated in various plenaries and provided valuable insights from community perspective to the discussion. They have influenced the outcome documents of key strategic meetings (e.g., the United Nations (UN) High Level Meeting; Asia Pacific Regional Consultation on Universal Access to HIV Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support; and the World Youth Summit in Mali) to reflect the needs to access to prevention, treatment, and care services of young MSM and young TG people in Asia and the Pacific region. The network then continues to provide that space for dialogue both offline and online, working closely with existing civil society partners through the secretariat to facilitate changes at local, national, and regional levels.
To cite a particular example of activism, YVC took part in the High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS (HLM), June 7-10 2016 at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York. A political declaration titled "On the Fast Track to Accelerate The Fight Against HIV And to End AIDS Epidemic by 2030" was adopted by member states, which is supposed to spell out the commitments of members states to end the AIDS Epidemic by 2030. Along with other organisations, YVC took an active role since the release of the zero draft of the political declaration in April 2016, advocating for the inclusion of MSM and TG people and concerns of Asia and the Pacific region. YVC took part in the side event organised by the Men Who Have Sex With Men Global Forum (MSMGF) and The Platform titled Unfinished Business: HIV Among Gay, Bisexual Men and Other Men Who Have Sex With Men to the High Level meeting on HIV. Sitting at a panel of the side event, YVC expressed the importance of community engagement in service provision for MSM. YVC members also took part in a civil society walk-out of the UN general assembly hall to demonstrate their disapproval of what they saw as the weak political deceleration. The civil society representatives then organised a protest in front of the UN Headquarters, marching with slogans and banners that said, "our blood is in your hands, act now end AIDS". YVC also made a press release stating YVC’s stance on the political declaration.
Among other young key populations (YKPs), young MSM and young TG people face unique stigma and discrimination due to their sexual orientation, sexual behaviour, gender identity, and gender expression, which further marginalise these populations and increase their vulnerability to HIV. Self-stigma issues related to young MSM and young TG persons have also been discussed and addressed at many levels. In 2013 and 2014, YVC launched a campaign called Loud and Proud in celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) and International Youth Day in 6 countries including Indonesia, Fiji, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Viet Nam. In each country, a community event took place with large gatherings of young people from diverse gender and sexual backgrounds. The mini documentaries that were created were designed to bring the message of self-stigma among young MSM and young TG persons to the surface (see one example, below; for others, visit YVC on YouTube). 2015 saw Loud and Proud implemented in Sri Lanka, China, Philippines, and Thailand. "The Hidden Dimension" [PDF] is a paper that emerged from a YVC in-person consultation in October 2012 in Bangkok held to better understand how self-stigma relates to HIV. YVC also commissioned in-country research (in the form of focus group discussions, or FDGs) in 10 countries to inform the recommendations.
Having identified that there is a lack of youth-focused HIV related health services for young MSM and young transgender persons in the region, YVC members came together in 2013 to share their experience of getting tested in their country. The result is a discussion paper called "Jumping Hurdles" [PDF] covering different elements of ideal HIV services for MSM and transgender youth. Once implemented by health services providers, the recommendations will hopefully increase access of young MSM and young transgender persons to health service in the region. YVC is also producing a set of youth-friendly guidelines for health service providers at the country and community levels, with inputs provided by YVC members during a consultation in November 2013. YVC hopes that once used by the health services providers, the guidelines will increase youth access to health services in the region.
In 2015, YVC launched the 2-year peer-led IGNITE Mentorship Program to address current gaps in capacity building for young MSM and young TG persons, strengthen their skills and knowledge, and build a cradle of young leaders for the HIV movement in Asia and the Pacific. Nine mentees from Bhutan, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam are implementing small-scale projects extending for a maximum period of 6 months. Each mentee is connected with a mentor in their own locations to facilitate easy communication and hands-on mentoring. The projects focus on "small steps" to address issues such as violence faced by gay and TG students at school settings, creating youth friendly HIV health services, raising awareness, and mobilising young gay and young TG people. One of the projects is unique in its approach to reaching young TG men with information on transition, rights, and health. A main objective of the small scale projects is to facilitate a process where the mentees can acquire hands-on experience on project development, implementation, monitoring, and finances. The projects were developed by the mentees as a result of the 2nd IGNITE! Workshop with the support of their mentors and the YVC secretariat. The funds for each project implementation is hosted by a fiscal host organisation in each country which acts as a second mentor for the mentee in handling finances.
HIV/AIDS, Youth, Rights, Gender
In 2015, there was a 47% increase in YVC membership, and the countries increased from 19 to 21 (the latest additions being from the Kiribati and Cook Islands). Of the members, 84 are MSM, 31 are TG people, and 10 are living with HIV.
According to figures cited by YVC, globally, 4 million young people 15-24 years old are living with HIV, half a million of whom are living in Asia and the Pacific. More than 95% of all new HIV infections among young people occur among most-at-risk young people, including young MSM and young TG people. Age significantly contributes to a person's vulnerability to HIV in this region, particularly young MSM and young TG people, as it adds more layers to already existing stigma and discrimination toward them for their sexual behaviour, drug use, and/or occasional or non-occasional engagement with sex work. These young people face additional barriers to services due to the criminalisation of male-to-male sex in 19 out of 38 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the non-recognition of gender identity of TG people, and the intense stigma and discrimination from family, employers, service providers, law enforcement bodies, and the state, among others. Young MSM and young TG people also experience challenges in accessing health services due to their age because of laws that require parental consent to obtain HIV testing and counseling for children and adolescents under 18 in some countries in the region. In addition, young MSM and young TG people aged 18-29 report facing unique self-issues, including intense self-stigma, which further increases their HIV vulnerabilities by making it harder for them to seek support and much-needed help.
AIDS Fonds, Asia-Pacific Coalition for Male Sexual Health (APCOM), Hivos, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Children's Fund, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Asia Pacific Inter-Agency Task Team on Young Key Populations (IATT) website, YVC website, and YVC Advocacy Agenda [PDF] - all accessed on December 5 2016.