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Convergence For Change 2023: IPPF ESEAOR Regional Gathering and Youth Forum Highlights

In a remarkable show of unity and dedication, 95 dynamic delegates and youth leaders representing 24 Member Associations from the East, Southeast Asia, and Oceania Region convened in Bali, Indonesia, ...

In a remarkable show of unity and dedication, 95 dynamic delegates and youth leaders representing 24 Member Associations from the East, Southeast Asia, and Oceania Region convened in Bali, Indonesia, from October 16-18. This gathering, "Convergence For Change: Regional Meeting and Youth Forum," was a transformative platform for engaging presentations, insightful panel discussions, and a rich exchange of ideas.

To be impactful in a changing world, IPPF must also evolve. This is the essence of Strategy 2028: The transformation of IPPF to effectively champion Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) for those who have been marginalised or excluded, with a strong focus on people-centred care, advancing the sexuality agenda, fostering solidarity for change, and nurturing the federation. 

Tomoko Fukuda, IPPF ESEAOR Regional Director, set the tone for this momentous occasion with a resounding call to "bring the power together" and embark on a bold, forward-looking journey to address new challenges and opposition head-on. Strategy 2028 sets a new course that may be more challenging but ultimately leads to the same clear destination.

Charting the Path Forward: IPPF's Strategy 2028

Casper Erichsen, Director of Strategy and Planning, delved into IPPF's strategic commitments and the shared responsibilities in their implementation. During discussions, Member Associations (MAs) discussed the challenges, risks, and opportunities associated with these strategies. Urgent challenges surfaced, including backlash against gender and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) initiatives, mounting restrictions on safe abortion access, and the imperative for LGBTIQ+ inclusion, alongside growing concerns about political instability, potential funding reductions, and the humanitarian crises intensified by climate change.

However, amidst these challenges, glimmers of hope and potential opportunities emerged. MAs recognised the prospect of learning from each other through a South-to-South inter-learning cooperative, leveraging AI communication technology for growth and impact, and advocating for the comprehensive integration of all ten components of SRHR in MA work, regardless of the prevailing circumstances. These discussions shed light on the evolving landscape of SRHR advocacy and the dynamic strategies needed to address pressing challenges while capitalising on opportunities for positive change.

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Empowering Change-Makers: Youth Participation and Leadership

Youth participation and leadership took centre stage at the regional gathering. The event aimed to foster a deeper understanding of young people's Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) issues within the region and chart a course of action for the Youth SRHR Network in East & Southeast Asia and the Pacific (YSNAP).

Wing Yin Ching, YSNAP representative, emphasised the profound importance of meaningful youth participation, asserting, "Meaningful youth engagement isn't just a necessity; it's the bedrock of inclusive representation in policy-making, ensuring that the voices of marginalised communities are heard and their unique concerns addressed effectively in the development of youth-centric SRH advocacy programs and services”.

Jessica Work, a youth networker based in Fiji, passionately added, "Our generation holds a unique opportunity not just to shape the future but to mould it into a more equitable, inclusive, and responsive one. By actively participating in discussions and decisions that directly impact our lives, we can create an SRH landscape that truly serves the diverse needs of youth across the region."
The forum provided a platform to discuss roles, regional priorities, and commitments, resulting in a comprehensive regional youth network plan and a collective commitment to advancing SRHR in alignment with IPPF's Strategic Plan for 2023-2025.

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Diversity and Inclusion: Advancing SRHR Initiatives

To ensure all individuals with diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities, Expressions, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) can fully exercise their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), the IPPF ESEAOR region is making significant strides through inclusive programming. This initiative aims to create meaningful and adaptable programming, addressing the specific SRHR needs of diverse SOGIESC communities.

The 'Diverse SOGIESC Inclusion Self-Assessment Toolkit’ allows MAs to assess their current program status regarding diverse SOGIESC inclusion, a topic discussed extensively at the regional gathering. It encouraged MAs to identify gaps and barriers while offering strategies to bridge them, enabling them to enhance their inclusion efforts periodically.

Delegates also discussed valuable resources and recommendations, including organisational policy frameworks, capacity building, services, and advocacy, all aimed at facilitating the development of diverse SOGIESC-inclusive SRHR programming to ensure no one is left behind. 

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Navigating Challenges: Opposition and Anti-Rights Movements

Jon Lomoy, IPPF Board of Trustees member, emphasised the progress in advancing the sexuality agenda while acknowledging the presence of formidable and increasingly united opposition. “We need to work together, we need to have a common purpose, but at the same time, we also have to respect the diversity and different contexts that we come from.” He also highlighted the importance of collective action and shared objectives, emphasising the need to work collaboratively. 

Holley Skene, Family Planning Alliance Australia Board Member, brought attention to the growing challenges faced in sexual and reproductive health advocacy and the increasing local and national opposition trends, with misinformation tactics often going unchallenged. The documented rise in Far-Right activism, and the alarming shift of anti-COVID activists redirecting their focus toward trans and gender-diverse children, using these issues as divisive political tools. 

In response to these complex challenges, Holley emphasised several key advocacy strategies. These include forging connections between grassroots movements and marginalised communities, empowering individuals with lived experiences to lead advocacy efforts, implementing a strategic communications plan and critically examining the framing of key messages to determine their effectiveness, target audiences, and timing. 

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Responding with Essential Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Provision and New Delivery Mechanisms (RESPOND)

At its core, the RESPOND program ensures that all people have access to quality SRH services in Asia and the Pacific. Member Associations (MA) in the region have proved their commitment to this mission, evident in the quantitative and qualitative achievements made over the program's second year. The success of service implementation is greatly attributed to the strong collaborative partnerships forged with local civil society organisations, government agencies, and healthcare providers. These partnerships have facilitated the integration of project activities into existing local systems, ensuring sustainability and local ownership of the initiatives. 

In Laos, the Promotion of Family Health Association (PFHA) achieved significant milestones in their RESPOND program, with a resounding impact on sexual and reproductive health services. Dr Souphon Sayavong, Executive Director, PFHA, shared the achievements with the delegates, stating, “Our dedication has resulted in providing 47,717 Sexual Reproductive Health services, marking a substantial step toward our goals.”

Other notable achievements include strengthening government-run health centres and national Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) advocacy workshops. This workshop enhanced support for marginalised communities and fostered collaboration with key organisations committed to activities and awareness campaigns at the operational district level.


Climate Change and Humanitarian Response

Julius Ssenabulya, Executive Director of the Vanuatu Family Health Association (VFHA), shared valuable insights with delegates on VFHA's humanitarian response to twin Tropical Cyclones Judy and Kevin in 2023. 

He highlighted the complexity of humanitarian responses involving a diverse range of actors with varying outcomes, underscoring the importance of flexible and adaptive interventions within an inclusive environment. The vital role of effective cooperation in positioning Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) as a fundamental humanitarian service, serving both as a means of risk management and a cost-saving tool, was a key takeaway.

VFHA's humanitarian response recommendations include recognising response team welfare as a priority, the need for adaptability and inclusivity in humanitarian interventions, leveraging local resources for community engagement, and optimising cooperation to strengthen the essential role of SRH services in disaster response.

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Anti-Racism Efforts

Delegates at the regional gathering engaged in profound discussions on anti-racism. They reflected on the importance of understanding the nuanced regional context and embraced the role of allies in addressing the challenges faced by minorities and indigenous communities. Anti-racism was woven into discussions on power dynamics, privilege, and authentic ways for individuals to contribute to dismantling systemic barriers. These conversations also delved into the intersections of classism and decolonisation in pursuing equitable SRHR for all. 

Group discussions explored how certain communities may inadvertently perpetuate systemic racism or benefit from it due to their proximity to dominant cultural norms. Acknowledging these complexities is essential in dismantling deeply ingrained structures of inequality and discrimination. The session on anti-racism emphasised the need for MAs to continually educate themselves, challenge their biases, and actively work towards creating a more just environment where SRHR is a reality for everyone, regardless of their racial or ethnic background. In essence, anti-racism emerged as an essential element in the broader effort to foster inclusivity in SRHR advocacy and policymaking across the region.

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As the curtains close on the Convergence For Change 2023: IPPF ESEAOR Regional Gathering and Youth Forum, it leaves a lasting impact on the journey towards championing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in the East, Southeast Asia, and Oceania Region.

This gathering addressed the challenges and opposition in the SRHR landscape and sparked hope and potential opportunities for positive change. By embracing diversity, amplifying youth voices, fostering inclusion, confronting systemic barriers, and standing united, the IPPF ESEAOR community is firmly committed to creating a more equitable world where SRHR is a reality for all. 

We converge for change, dedicated to building a more inclusive future for everyone.

For more information, please get in touch with Malarvili Meganathan, Regional Communications, Voice and Media Advisor IPPF ESEAOR at [email protected]

Photos by: Florence Lee ([email protected])