Youth volunteers from different ethnic groups, young entrepreneurs, young people from LGBTIQ groups and young women from Women with Disabilities Development Center came together online yesterday to share their concerns, views and needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of International Youth Day, this youth-led virtual workshop was organized by the Lao Youth Union (LYU) with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), BFL, and Proud to Be Us Laos.
Young women with disabilities are the most vulnerable in all aspects of their lives, said Ms. Chomchai Phianam from the Women with Disabilities Development Center. She shared “Many people still have negative attitudes towards people with disabilities, the surrounding environment is not disability-friendly. They also face communication barriers as sign language communication products are not available.”
A youth volunteer, from Luangnamtha province; Ms. Moukdavanh Cheualuangthep, shared her experiences. She is preparing for the National University entrance but due to COVID19, she could not travel to Vientiane Capital to sit for the exam, “I study online courses during the lockdown. I just completed secondary school this year. If there are no covid19 restrictions, I would have been in Vientiane Capital for the exam.”
Souphadee Sibounkhoun, a youth volunteer from Proud to Be Us, shared his experience of being an LGBTIQ person who encounters discrimination in his classroom and community. “The movement restriction mounts the existing stress and anxiety as I cannot go about my life like I used to,” he said. He hopes that one day he will be understood and accepted by his classmates and society for who he is, and at the same time is hoping COVID19 to be over soon.
A young entrepreneur, Ms. Sengsavanh Chanthavongsa, the owner of small business Panlana-candle & Co, shared challenges in moving her business forward. “I had to close my shop, and I cannot deliver the products to my clients, so it affected my income. I think it does the same to other entrepreneurs, especially small businesses.”
Mr. Somkiao Kingsada, Director General of the Department of International Cooperation, Lao Youth Union said “we know that COVID-19 has changed our lives and poses many challenges to young people. Today’s event is a platform for young people of diverse backgrounds to share their experiences and concerns in real life. Youth voices are critical to incorporate in the implementation plan of the recently endorsed National Adolescent and Youth Strategy,”
“Young people are key to accelerating the implementation of the ICPD programme of action and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. At UNFPA, promote their voice, participation and role of young people as partners in change. The Me, My Body, My Planet, My Future campaign provides a platform for youth to speak up and take action on the issues affecting their health, including mental health, and other areas concerning their wellbeing,” said Mr. Tej Ram Jat, Programme Specialist- Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health at UNFPA.
The event concluded with young people suggesting to consider and take immediate actions:
- To foster acceptance of the public towards the LGBTIQ community and people with disabilities by public awareness-raising campaigns.
- To make health information and services available to all young people, especially information and services accessible by LGBTIQ, young people with disabilities and from ethnic communities.
- To produce diverse information, education, and communication (IEC) materials focusing on LGBTIQ, disabilities, and ethnic communities.
- To encourage innovative solutions to reach adolescents and young people in rural communities aiming to close the gap between people who can access information and the internet and those who cannot.
The event encouraged young people to speak up on the issues they see essential in their life. The participants requested to have more spaces and opportunities like this in the future to share experiences and get their voices heard.
Laos has over half of its total population below 25 years of age; it is essential to create spaces to include them in discussion and decision-making processes that can yield a significant impact on their lives and future. UNFPA works with the government of Laos to empower adolescents and young people through the Noi Framework and Ecosystem, an innovative youth-centered comprehensive development programme approach that allows youth to make informed decisions and lead healthy lives.