Youth Energy and Action Can Move Sex Education Forward
Joan Soto, Youth Director at Profamilia Puerto Rico
After receiving a fellowship, I recently attended the 7th annual One Voice Summit: Linking Reproductive Health and the Environment, a three-day advocacy training for young people organized by the Sierra Club's Global Population and Environment Program. More than 40 young people from across the United States were selected to travel to Washington, DC in November to learn about the intersection of environmental and reproductive justice issues, domestically and globally, and develop solutions to achieve sustainability.
Some of the key issues at play in sustainable development worldwide are increasing universal access to family planning and health services, promoting comprehensive sexuality education, fighting for girls' and women's rights, and economic equity. To accomplish these goals we must empower young people and enable them to present their needs to international decision-makers. We must also move beyond singular solutions, and instead focus on how issues overlap, such as environmental justice and reproductive health.
The relationship between reproductive health and the environment was the main theme of this year's One Voice Summit. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the products we use, and the places we live or work all have an impact on our health. We learned about the importance of the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, legislation that promotes school-based comprehensive sexuality education for young people in the United States and establishes a standard for what programs must include in order to be eligible for federal funding. Young people have the right to make informed decisions about their sexuality, and this bill helps us access scientifically sound information on growth and development, anatomy and physiology, healthy relationships, preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and family planning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 4 women between the ages of 14-19 will contract a sexually transmitted disease and condoms are highly effective in preventing the transmission of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.
Young people should focus their energies on advocacy efforts. We can negotiate with policymakers and contribute to reaching agreements that promote real solutions. We must develop our leadership skills to empower and educate our communities, and ensure the strategies we implement adequately convey the changes we want and need.
Attending the One Voice Summit was an extraordinary opportunity to enhance my professional growth, and I'm grateful that the Sierra Club granted me the opportunity. The summit was an excellent initiative to encourage young people to step up and evolve the issues of comprehensive sexuality education and youth sexual rights.