I am Generation Equality: Nicholas Niwagaba, young leader, human rights advocate

Billions of people across the world stand on the right side of history every day. They speak up, take a stand, mobilise, and take big and small actions to advance women’s rights. This is Generation Equality.

I am Generation Equality because…

I grew up in a community where HIV stigma was high and I saw the effects firsthand. HIV information and services were not available and I saw many of my friends and family members succumb to AIDS. Some of my peers living with HIV lost their jobs and friends, were ostracised by family members, or dropped out of school. In the most extreme cases, women living with HIV were forced out of their homes or coerced into sterilisation.

These issues were not prioritised by key policy makers and leaders. The voices of young women living with HIV remained unheard in my community, and these injustices had a profound effect on me.

Campaigning to end stigma around HIV

When I joined the Uganda Network of Young People Living with and Affected by HIV (UNYPA) in 2014, I challenged my peers to think of innovative ways to breakdown HIV-related stigma. We started the “Y Plus Beauty Pageant,” a peer-led, nationwide campaign to empower young people living with HIV and bring attention to the harmful effects of HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

To date, UNYPA has trained over 844 Y Plus Ambassadors to advocate for the rights of young people living with HIV and push for HIV and sexual and reproductive health services in the community. The ambassadors have reached out to over 1,500 peers in schools, clinics and hospitals in their communities about standing up for the rights of young people living with HIV.

Harnessing the power of youth advocates

When the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was established 25 years ago, the world lit a torch that we must keep afire. My advice to young people is to speak up! Mobilise as many people as you can to speak up against all forms of violence against women and girls.

Men can be part of the solution by calling on fellow men to respect women and girls and advocate for their rights. Men can hold each other accountable and be role models. Denying women and girls the ability to reach their full potential is a missed opportunity for all.

Lastly, know your rights and responsibilities. Young people can leverage digital and information technologies as tools for empowerment and advocacy. Knowledge is power, and no one can silence you if you know what you are standing up against. When you know your rights, you are unstoppable.

As the Executive Director of Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV/AIDS (UNYPA) Nicholas Niwagaba works to improve the quality of life for young people living with HIV in Uganda. Nicholas leads a youth movement to increase access to quality sexual and reproductive health services and information and to create an enabling environment for young people living with HIV.