The Youth Preconference began today, and what a whirlwind it has been! There are more than 300 young people (26 and under) here, and they are one incredible bunch. I’ve met people from Kenya, Belgium, Turkmenistan, Guyana, Canada, Uganda, Mexico, Vietnam and everywhere in between.

There are also some really incredible speakers and workshops. Here’s a taste of the day’s events:

9am: Welcome and Opening Remarks – Steve Krauss, Chief of the HIV/AIDS branch of UNFPA spoke. He had three key messages for the youth in the room:

1. HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health Go Hand-in-Hand: There will be some people who think that youth should only be concerned with AIDS. We need to encourage them to see that AIDS doesn’t exist on its own, and needs to be addressed within a framework of sexual and reproductive health, especially among young people. According to the 2008 UN report launched this past Tuesday in New York, only 38% f women and 40% of men know how HIV is transmitted.

2. Reproductive Health is a Human Right: Your health is your right. This includes access to information on health, health skills, education and more.

3. Prevention Efforts Need to be Doubled: Currently, only 2 people have access to HIV prevention resources for every 5 who need it. We need to hold our governments accountable for prevention and how well they are doing on it.

10:30am: Plenary on Youth and the AIDS Epidemic

This session talked about why it is so important to organize around young people, and also discussed in-depth the question of:

“Why are young people so vulnerable to HIV?” Many answers and perspectives were given, including:

  1. Lack of comprehensive sex education
  2. Lack of access to youth-friendly services, including condoms, and contraceptives
  3. High numbers of young people in what are considered “high risks groups” (in this were mentioned sex workers, migrant populations, Men who have sex with men (MSM) and intravenous drug users (IDUs) who also lack access to information and resources needed to help keep themselves healthy and safe.
  4. Poverty and Unemployment, and discrimination because of these factors
  5. Gender, with women and girls particularly affected, as in many places it is harder for them to negotiate safe sex
  6. Human rights violations
  7. Lack of meaningful involvement of young people

more on the sessions to come soon.