Founded back in 1999, the Youth Coalition is an organization that was built on the passion, hard work and dedication of its members and staff. Over the past 12 years, we have been fortunate enough to amass a large and wonderful extended-family of alumni. Our former members and staff come from all over the world and have each made meaningful and important contributions to the Youth Coalition and to the world of sexual and reproductive rights.
This month, we talk to founding member and YC Alumnus, Nadia Van der Linde about her time with the Youth Coalition, the changing landscape of sexual and reproductive rights, and her vision for the future (and for her own two small children).
(top photo: Nadia and her daughter)
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All Grown Up: A Chat with Nadia Van der Linde
Hi Nadia! Can you tell us how you first got involved in sexual and reproductive rights advocacy, and how old you were?
I got involved ‘by chance’ when I was 22 and studying at the University of Amsterdam. A friend of my mom worked with World Population Foundation and she was coordinating a youth group around ICPD issues called the Dutch Council on Youth and Population. She asked my mom if perhaps I was interested to join. I decided to give it a chance, without having any idea what it would entail at that time.
Why did you become a member of the Youth Coalition?
I’m a founding member and so was extremely excited about actually becoming a member of an actual organisation (as we had already been calling ourselves the Youth Coalition for a while before we managed to form our own structures). I’m a strong believer in human rights and see a strong need for joint action on rights related to sexuality as they keep being ignored or opposed, especially for girls. I also know that young people themselves can be responsible, take action, and make change.
Why do you think it’s important for young people to be engaged in sexual and reproductive rights advocacy at the international level?
Decision makers at the international level still require much more awareness and ‘push’ to stand up for young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. As long as they’re not taking the decisions and follow up actions needed, advocacy continues to be relevant and necessary.
How do you think the international political landscape has changed since you attended the 5-year review of ICPD in 1999?
1999 was before the ‘war on terror’, before anti-Islamic sentiments that are now so commonly heard in Europe (although sadly discrimination and fascism did also exist then). There was more solidarity and tolerance. Development aid was considered important and necessary as opposed to the current trends of limiting the aid and criticizing process and outcomes without properly understanding the contexts. But at that time young people were not usually part of international politics and debates, which is something that has greatly changed in the past 12 years! There is much more recognition of the relevance and the importance of involving young people (and also of involving people from different backgrounds, HIV status, orientation, etc).
What do you think is the most urgent sexual and reproductive rights issue facing young people today?
I think religion is the biggest threat. It’s a difficult one to say because religion also has so many good sides and means the world to a lot of people, but certain religious ‘leaders’ (of all different religions) play such an important role in either accepting young people’s agency and rights, or opposing it. Unfortunately, they still often oppose it and as such greatly influence political decision makers, teachers, parents, and young people themselves.
In terms of the specific SRR issue for young people, it differs around the world but a commonality is simply the lack of recognition of young people as having agency, as being able to make their own decisions if they get the opportunity (and the information, protection, services, and support to do so).
How has your time with the Youth Coalition influenced or changed your life?
The YC played a central role in making me who I am today. It got me into the SRR field which I still love working in at the moment. I learned a lot of skills which have been useful throughout my career, such as advocacy, training facilitation, chairing and rapporteuring. It also taught me great lessons about solidarity, working with people from different backgrounds and cultures, and persevering even when at times you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Together, the light will come closer. Also, YC has provided me with friends for life.
What would you like to say to new members who have just recently joined the Youth Coalition?
Enjoy your time with the YC and give it all you have – it will be returned to you hundredfold in the years to come. Your ideas, experience, skills, knowledge and energy are what will shape and further develop the organisation and, more importantly, the quality of advocacy of sexual and reproductive rights of young people at the international arena. You are one of the lucky few to be a YC member but don’t let it get to your head either: focus on collaboration, giving and sharing, and solidarity with other young people.
Twelve years have passed since you first helped to establish the Youth Coalition, what are you up to now? Are you still involved in SRR?
I've worked on SRR and/or youth participation ever since I left the YC. The past years I worked with UNFPA at country and regional levels and currently I'm doing consultancies. I'd love to get back into more activist and advocacy work again in a similar area.
As a mother of your own children, what kind of world do you envision for your kids 15 years from now?
I have 2 great kids and it's been an amazing experience seeing people's reactions to me when I was pregnant and later walking around with my kids. It's also been a great way to start talking to people about family planning, gender issues (men’s responsibility in raising kids), etc. In the Netherlands there is still a somewhat traditional culture where people expect mothers to work less in order to take care of the children. In Asia, people find it more normal that a woman (also) works.
I’ve learned to understand that 15 years is a short time for social/cultural change. I would like to envisage a world of peace and fulfillment of human rights for all but realistically I hope my children will grow up in a world where people value each other and their environment, support each other and appreciate solidarity and collaboration. I would hope that they will receive quality sex ed in school (in addition to everything that we’ll share with them at home of course), feel comfortable and free to choose their own partner(s) and have pleasurable sex when they are ready for it. I also hope that they will both feel motivated and supported to pursue a career of their choice.
Nadia Van der Linde was a Youth Coalition member from 1996 to 2006, and currently lives in Bangkok, Thailand where she works as a consultant.
Read her YC Alumni profile here.