ASTRA youth is an important youth organization addressing SRHR in the Central and Eastern Europe region and Balkan Countries. The post below is an interview done with ASTRA Youth explaining some of the ways in which they work with youth.
1. What does ASTRA Youth strive to accomplish or influence?
ASTRA Youth works in the field of youth sexual and reproductive health and rights which are considered to be basic human rights. The issue which we concentrate most on is sexuality education. Hence we try to influence local and international policy makers in order to introduce obligatory sexuality education to schools and make this subject a part of the school curriculum.
We also believe that we as the young people have:
– the right to decide about our lives and how we want to spend them,
– the right to decide if, when and how many children we want to have,
– the right to make decisions about beginning our sexual lives and the right to acquire information about how to make it safe,
– the right to reliable information and sexuality education, especially when facing the growing HIV/AIDS pandemic.
These statements reflect our goals and issues which would like to influence.
2. Why was ASTRA Youth founded?
ASTRA youth was founded to bring the voice of motivated youngsters to other youth/adolescents and public at large in the region and create the movement to advocate for SRHR.
ASTRA Youth was founded in July 2004 when most of the current members met on the occasion of the workshop for young people in the area of SRHR organized by the ASTRA Network. As a result participants decided that there is a need to create a youth wing of the ASTRA Network which would concentrate on youth issues in regard to SRHR. The ASTRA Youth Network was also founded to serve as a platform for sharing skills, ideas and peer education. Participants involved with ASTRA Youth wanted to run campaigns, make research and work towards raising the awareness of young people of issues such as contraception, HIV/AIDS, pregnancy and sexuality.
3. What is the geographical and political scope of ASTRA Youth’s work? Why is it important?
The existence of ASTRA youth network is of utmost importance as it gathers the expertise of the youth work in the region in terms of SRHR, that ensures constant information/experience sharing, identification of key problematic issues in the region and effectively sets mechanisms to jointly deal with them.
ASTRA Youth works in the region of Central and Eastern Europe and Balkan Countries. The countries which are ASTRA Youth members include: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Poland and Ukraine. This is the region which is the interest of both ASTRA and ASTRA Youth Networks.
This region has a very vulnerable situation regarding SRHR, especially concerning youth. There is practically no reliable sexuality education in schools in these countries, access to contraception is limited and the young people are the most vulnerable group regarding new HIV/AIDS infections. Moreover, even though abortion is legal in these countries (the only exception is Poland) access to safe abortion is limited, especially for young girls. All these reasons add up to this region having many common traits what makes it easier for ASTRA Youth members to cooperate and set a common goal.
4. Can you please provide a description of the core work that ASTRA Youth does?
ASTRA Youth reaches out to young people in various ways. As all our members are involved in activities with their local NGOs, both as employees and as volunteers, they are involved in both local and international activities. Many ASTRA Youth members and their organizations serve as educators – they conduct sexuality educations classes in schools, provide young people with informational materials (brochures, leaflets) and counseling. A hotline and internet forum where young boys and girls can ask questions regarding their sexuality is also very common. Peer educators promote condom usage among adolescents, making it clear that this is the only contraceptive that can prevent both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Apart from this research work is often done by the local activists.
Similarly on the international level we run various actions and campaigns, do advocacy work (recently we have submitted a petition to the European Parliament regarding sexuality education) and prepare reports. It is crucial to note that we have actions which are applicable on the national level (performed by member organizations) and actions which are common for all of us, the ASTRA Youth members, on the international level.
5. How and why is ASTRA Youth important for young women activists (20-30)? How does ASTRA Youth respond to young women’s issues?
ASTRA Youth creates a space for young feminists to meet and share common interests and goals. The core idea of a network is that together we are stronger, hence ASTRA Youth not only works together by organizing events, producing reports and advocacy work, but the network also provides support for its members. We learn and educate each other on various issues. Sharing a common goal makes its easier for us to come up with common ideas. Learning new skills (i.e. how to write grant proposals) is crucial to the development of the network and its members. Hence there are two ways in which ASTRA Youth responds to young women’s issues; as a Network that coordinates and provides support for its members and as a Network that does research on young women’s issues in the region and addresses the needs of adolescents regarding SRHR.
6. Who are key partners for ASTRA Youth?
ASTRA Youth is a youth wing of the ASTRA Network, the Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, which is the key partner for ASTRA Youth. Moreover we sometimes cooperate with other international youth networks. The ASTRA Youth member NGO’s have also their own partners in their countries. For instance in Georgia the key partners for Astra Youth are youth groups and initiative leaders united in youth forum, working on the youth affairs nationally and internationally. Both at grassroots and at the governmental level.
7. How does ASTRA Youth work with women’s organizations or other organizations that do not focus specifically on youth?
On example of Association HERA XXI, it collaborates with all NGOs and professional organizations that bring positive changes in terms of women health and rights, as indirectly it always brings positive result to young women of the country.
8. What is your relationship with ASTRA? How has ASTRA Youth helped to highlight youth issues in ASTRA?
ASTRA Youth has among its members organizations which do not focus specifically on young people’s issues but on women generally and topics such as violence against women and children, women and labour, gender education etc. Association HERA XXI from Georgia collaborates with all NGOs and professional organizations that bring positive changes in terms of women health and rights, as indirectly it always brings positive result to young women of the country.
9. What issues does ASTRA Youth focus on and what structure do you use to organize your work?
ASTRA Youth focuses on sexuality education and safe sex promotion in regards to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. These are the core issues of our work for and with the young people. The structure of ASTRA Youth is very simple as the Network is an informal one. The secretariat is located at the ASTRA Network Secretariat in Warsaw in Poland. All the members communicate with each other via a discussion group. Once or twice a year a strategic meeting, usually together with a training for the members, is organized in one of the ASTRA Youth countries.
10. What are some of the challenges you have faced in ASTRA Youth and what are some of your greatest achievements?
One of the biggest challenge is the mobilization of youth force and work at the community level on the issues of SRHR. However the outreach component ensures awareness raising and knowledge among youth. Another challenge is fundraising. Unfortunately the sources for funding for SRHR issues in the Central and Eastern Europe and Balkan region are limited. Advocating on SRHR, and especially SRHR of youth, on governmental level (also international), is currently quite difficult as these are not the priorities. Network coordination is also one of the challenges we face – this happens mainly via the internet and there is little “face to face” contact. The annual strategic meetings are a great possibility for the members to meet each other, as well as during some international events. Even though the functioning of the Network itself is a challenge it remains a very satisfying one.
The recent achievement is the publication of “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Right of adolescents in Central and Eastern Europe and Balkan countries” and its launch event in the European Parliament in January 2011. ASTRA Youth also had its appearance during UN Commision on the Status of Women in New York one month later. The networking and sharing via various channels of the ASTRA Youth actions and reports has paid off well as the Astra Youth members are more visible in the international arena. Another success is the steady Network development with adding new members and creating new ideas and initiatives with little resources. There are also local successes. The Association HERA XXI from Georgia accomplished including the Sexually Transmitted Infections and low SRHR awareness in the eight priority issues in youth policy developed by the Georgian Ministry of Health Labour and Social Affairs.
11. What are your future goals for ASTRA Youth? Where do you see it heading? What can we expect?
The future goals for ASTRA Youth include networking and sharing the latest report on adolescents SRHR issues, as well as coming up with a new campaign on safe sex. One of the most important goals is fundraising for new initiatives. We are also currently working towards expanding our network to other countries of the CEE region.
12. What kind of response have you had to ASTRA Youth initiatives? Have they been positive or negative? Please elaborate
ASTRA Youth events have usually gained a lot of interest in the local environment but also internationally. During the ASTRA Youth report launch event in the European Parliament in early 2011 we have received a lot of positive attention and encouragement from MEPs and people who attended this event. The responses to the reports have been also positive and these were and are widely distributed. The Georgian example also shows that the positive responses have been prevailing. These usually come from the youth groups and local leaders as well as recipients of the various actions.
13. Is there anything you would like to add or highlight about ASTRA Youth?
The ASTRA Youth Network is currently looking for new members in the CEE and Balkan region. If you would like to join the ASTRA Youth Network please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join our online community on Facebook.
For more information on Astra Youth, Contact:
Marta Szostak, ASTRA Youth Network Coordinator