Friday, 23 May 2014

Youth policy in West Papua – listening to a new generation

Written by Sarah Grainger 

Melan, 24, and her mother Elvi, a biology teacher in Manokwari, West Papua
© UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Andy Brown

MANOKWARI, West Papua province, Indonesia, April 2014 - When Melan started college a few years ago, she got a shock.

Melan’s family had always talked openly about issues like safe sex and HIV/AIDS prevention. So the 24 year-old from Manokwari in West Papua province felt prepared for greater independence from her parents, setting off for college each day on her motorbike. But she soon realised that not all of her friends had had the same support.

“I started to see how little information some of them had about life skills,” she says. “Some of my friends are very open and I would hear about their problems. Not so much drugs, but alcohol use and pregnancies. Some of them were in violent relationships.”

Growing up as the daughter of a biology teacher, Melan had found it easy to talk to her mother Elvi about safe sex. Elvi teaches HIV/AIDS awareness in secondary school and would take her daughter and her three other children along with her to awareness-raising activities.

“It’s normal in our family to discuss these issues,” says Elvi. “I want my kids to be able to go out but also to be able to protect themselves.”

Working Together

Melan (left) joins Youth Forum members in discussion at the Major café
© UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Andy Brown

Melan wanted to do something to improve the situation for her friends in college, so about six years ago she started to become active in HIV/AIDS advocacy.

Eventually, she joined up with other like-minded young people at the West Papua Youth Forum. The forum was founded in 2010 with help from UNICEF, which trained many of its members as peer educators on HIV.

The forum members meet informally at the Major café in Manokwari. It’s a funky little coffee shop painted in shades of orange, with light fittings made from tea pots, batik table cloths, and Rihanna videos playing on a flat screen TV.

The setting may be hip, but the forum is addressing some tough issues. The provinces of Papua and West Papua have the highest HIV prevalence in all of Indonesia. Young people there also face other challenges like unemployment, early pregnancy and drug and alcohol abuse.

The Youth Forum members count as their greatest achievement so far the drafting of a youth policy for the West Papua province, which they worked on with the provincial government. The policy guarantees young people access to education, HIV/AIDS awareness and sexual and reproductive health services.

“At a high level meeting last June there was a declaration of commitment between the government and youth which is very important,” says Rhoy, 29. “I’ve never seen the government and all the district leaders sitting together to give a commitment like this.”

Energy and insight

Yohan Rumwaropen in his office in Manokwari
© UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Andy Brown

As well as setting up the forum, UNICEF helped assess the needs of young people in West Papua, and brought the different parties together for discussions on the youth policy. We believe that by involving young people directly in this process, the final policy is much more likely to meet their needs.

“UNICEF gave us energy and new insight to see and understand the issues related to young people here,” says Yohan Rumwaropen, Director of the Provincial Youth and Sports Office in the West Papua provincial government.

As the father of a 13-year-old daughter, and a former youth leader himself, Yohan is passionate about the need to improve the situation for young people in West Papua.

“I pray someday HIV will be eradicated here. I have to do something to protect the young generation from HIV so I do what I can to ensure there will still be young people here in future,” he says.

The youth policy guarantees HIV and life skills education for young people. It also guarantees them access to sexual and reproductive health services which are usually only given to married couples. And it recognises informal youth organisations.

The policy represents a big step forward for young people in West Papua, and Yohan expects that it will be signed into law by the provincial legislature after local elections in April.

Thanks to UNICEF’s work in West Papua, young people’s voices are being heard. A new generation of West Papuans are set to benefit from greater access to HIV/AIDS awareness and sexual health services, increasing their chances for a long, productive and safe life.

The author
Sarah Grainger is Communication and Knowledge Management Officer for UNICEF Indonesia