I just got back from a Y-PEER Advocacy Project Training inBulgaria. Y-PEER is UNFPA’s youthpeer-to-peer sexual and reproductive health network of over 500 NGOs worldwidein 36 countries. Our Shymkentvolunteers have become national representatives of the Y-PEER network in Kazakhstan, called Focal Points (FPs). This means that they are trained on international Training of Trainers(ToTs), support participation in the network as well as national and localprojects, and run projects on SRHR (Sexual & Reproductive Health &Rights). As our youth projectsincreased and were run solely by our organization’s youth leaders andvolunteers, we decided to re-register our youth organization as an independententity called the Youth Volunteer Leadership Center “Dostar,” which runs its projects autonomously and withyouth leadership but receives guidance from experienced NGO mentors at theAssociation of Business Women. I am now a volunteer for both of theorganizations, which is why I do both organizational and youth development work.
Y-PEER this year just started funding advocacy projects forits youth organizations, which is a big and difficult step as one canimagine. Many of the countriesthey work in, including those in the post-Soviet space, have complexrelationships with local government and decision makers. Or sometimes, the relationships are infact very simple, but unidirectional (no access to decision makers, top-downinformational and power structure).
Our training was really fascinating because of the widecomparative perspective we got on the situation with regards to domesticpolitics, the state of SRHR, and the role of youth NGOs in differentcountries. There were 8 nationsand 9 organizations represented at our conference: Bulgaria, Macedonia, 2Russian delegations (one from the North Caucasus), Moldova, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan andKazakhstan. Unfortunately whatthat meant was not everything in the training was directly applicable in thesame way to everyone, as the standards for advocacy in the West (open meetingswith or even criticism of your local government representatives) or EUcountries just is not possible in many of the post-Soviet countries yet.
That being said, we also learned some heartening thingsabout Kazakhstan while doing our own research. For example, did you know that the post-Soviet “Stans” havesome of the most liberal abortion laws in the world (check out this comparative chart on Wikipedia
)? Abortion is allowed in virtually all situations based on a woman’schoice up to the first trimester, and for a wide variety of reasonsafterwards. Unfortunately howeverit is often used as a method of contraception in absence of education aboutother safer, earlier methods of birth control. Illegal, unregistered abortionsin unsafe conditions are also common, not least because youth under the age of18 cannot obtain medical services without their parents’ consent (one of the big legal barriers we learned about on our visits to our local Youth Health Center in Shymkent, where the gynecologist and therapist on staff can only give “consultations” and referrals, but not prescriptions, tests or treatment). Clearly, there is still a lot of workto be done.
Our project I think reaches a very good compromise betweenthe need for advocacy and the reality of our local situation. We chose to focus on media advocacy,which uses mass media coverage to reach the attention of both decision makersand the public. Our project seeks to ensure that accurate information isdisseminated by the media and that any dialogue containing stigmatizingmarginalized groups is replaced by neutral and professional discourse. Our first media advocacy training willfocus on discrimination against PLWH (People Living With HIV). Among the advantages of media advocacyis that “news items in the media tend to carry more credibility than thosepresented in paid media advertisements or in public relations material” [“Media Advocacy
,” Encyclopedia of Public Health], including material we ourselves could produce as an NGO. Also, massmedia effectively reaches decision makers who monitor news stories in thecommunity. We will be running ajournalist training in late October and then facilitating the mass mediaoutputs that result from the training on PLWH rights and HIV awareness. Then in December we will have a finalpress conference with government officials, journalists, our constituency group(PLWH) and other community members. We’re very excited for our project – big thanks to the Y-PEER PETRI Sofiateam in Bulgaria for their project support and for running such an interestingtraining!
[Group picture of all the project teams at our beautifulresort in Pravets, Bulgaria – 60 km out of Sofia]
[Zau and I represented the Kazakhstan project team <3]
[Our project plan!]
[Pictures of the gorgeous Pravets resort’s spa and pool, complete with Finnish and Russian banyas, an herbal sauna, crazy showers and even an ice room (!)]
[One of the best side benefits of the trip was getting tomeet up with both Filip and Jenny, my lovely Bulgarian friends fromHarvard. Last time I was in Sofiawas in 2005 to visit Jenny, and it was so great to see her (and her brother!)again!]
[On our way back, Zau and I detour briefly to Ukraine to wait out our layover in Kiev. We did not order the “Fat on-Kyivski,” sadly]
PS: A final resource that was shared with us at the Y-PEERtraining that EVERYONE should read for their own edification: RSFU sexual education publications that tell you everything you would want to know aboutsexual organs, sexuality, reproductive health, virginity, condoms, abortion,prostitution, etc. in simple and concise language. Especially notable are the resources for workingspecifically with young men on SRHR and gender work. Read and distribute to all your friends!