#RisingYouth
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#RisingYouth

How #RisingYouth Alumni Are Tackling Human Rights Issues

A discussion with Nicholas Bauer and Meladul Ahmadzai

Human Rights Day is held every year on December 10th to raise awareness about the inalienable rights that we all share as humans, no matter who we are and where we come from.

On this date, we wanted to recognize and highlight all the work accomplished by the #RisingYouth Alumni and Grantees to reduce inequalities, create opportunities, raise awareness and act on issues directly affecting their communities and beyond. In this blog post, you will hear from two #RisingYouth Alumni whose projects were centered around Human Rights, Nicholas Bauer and Meladul Ahmadzai.

Nicholas Bauer

Nicholas Bauer organized an online and interactive event called ‘’Decolonizing Medicine: Indigenous perspectives on gender and health equity’’, in which he brought together a panel of Indigenous leaders, storytellers and healers share their perspectives on the current health status of the Indigenous community. Discussions were centered around the past and present of coerced sterilization, health accessibility barriers facing Indigenous communities, medical mistrust, and traditional modes of healing.

What was your #RisingYouth project and how did you use it to advocate for a human rights issue?

When you hear the word genocide, your mind may escape to a distant land or a time long ago. To me, genocide is not across the world or in a history book; it continues today in the place where I grew up — Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In 2017, Yvonne Boyer and Judith Bartlett published an external review entitled, “Tubal Ligation in the Saskatoon Health Region: The Lived Experience of Aboriginal Women”. This report detailed the coercive sterilization of Indigenous women by healthcare providers. These coordinated and calloused efforts to strip Indigenous people of their bodily autonomy should be understood as nothing less than an act of genocide. As a Métis person from Saskatoon, my stomach twisted in disgust to learn that these crimes had occurred during my lifetime in the place where I lived. Further, when I spoke to friends about this, many of whom are studying to become healthcare professionals, I was met with a clear lack of awareness. These circumstances impassioned me to help make a change.

As the Medical Education Project Leader for Medical Herstory — an international, feminist health non-profit — I led my team to host an event entitled “Decolonizing Medicine: Indigenous Perspectives on Gender and Health Equity”. Through this impactful event, we brought together Dr. Veronica McKinney (Director of Saskatchewan Northern Medical Services), Perry McLeod-Shabogesic (an Ojibway, Anishinaabe elder) and Dr. Karen Stote (an assistant professor at Wilfred Laurier University). Joined by an audience of current and future healthcare providers, the panel discussion focused on the present-day realities of coercive sterilization, northern inaccessibility, medical racism, and traditional modes of healing.

2. What is one human rights issue that you want to advocate for today?

Throughout my endeavours in research and volunteering, I have become increasingly aware of the reproductive and sexual health injustices confronting Indigenous populations in Canada. In addition to the horrors of coercive sterilization, northern Indigenous communities encounter dwindling and underfunded maternity services. For these birthing people, if complications are suspected during pregnancy, they are expected to relocate to their closest higher level clinical centre. This removes these people from their cultural and support networks for potentially months, especially during the vulnerable time of late-term pregnancy. Moreover, in my home province of Saskatchewan, syphilis transmission rates have increased 900 per cent in the last five years and HIV infection rates are nearly threefold higher than the national average. Historically, gay, bisexual, and Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) have borne the burden of HIV/AIDS; however, new infections primarily affect Indigenous populations.

These injustices are but a few examples of the sexual and reproductive inequities which are pervasive in Canada today. On these issues, it is important to note that I am not an expert or somebody with lived experience. Rather, in following my passions for reproductive and sexual health, I became aware of these deep-seated inequities and I was invigorated towards equity-driven action. To advocate for these issues, I believe it is first important to understand how the past manifests in the present. The issues named above are not isolated cases, but the legacy of government and healthcare systems that have and continue to routinely oppress marginalized peoples. Understanding colonial history is needed to dismantle its lasting effects. Next, we must find and support the heroes, foremost those with lived experiences. On the issue of Indigenous reproductive injustices, I am inspired by the work of Moon Time Sisters — a project of True North Aid dedicated to providing menstrual products to northern and rural menstruators who may not be able to otherwise afford them. To those reading this blog post, I would encourage all to support Moon Time Sisters and other for-Indigenous, by-Indigenous organizations. Finally, it is important to recognize that the fight against these issues is ongoing and will not be resolved by awareness alone. Instead, advocacy is made real only by speaking out and taking action. I recognize that these injustices are uncomfortable, they hurt to speak about and they sting to hear; however, they confront people across Canada who do not have the choice to ignore them. By using one’s voice and privilege to effect positive change, we can begin to undo these systems of oppression, securing reproductive and sexual health justice for Indigenous peoples.

Meladul Ahmadzai

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Meladul Ahmadzai noticed a technological knowledge gap for some students; which made it hard for them to attend online classes and successfully complete their school work. He decided to offer those students personal workshops to share his knowledge with them and bridge the gap, effectively increasing their access to education during the pandemic. In partnership with other organizations, Meladul decided to expand this initiative and offer it nationwide through a combination of online and in person workshops — making sure to abide by COVID-19 safety restrictions throughout.

Q1: What was your #RisingYouth project and how did you use it to advocate for a human rights issue?

I created three workshops to share online resources with students and youth to help them adapt to the new online school reality we are facing. For example, one workshop was focused on how to save their projects and export them to a PDF. Unfortunately, a lot of students do not know about these available tools, or how to use them. I am proud that I was able to share with about 30 youths from across Canada the knowledge I have, giving them tools to tackle online education during the pandemic. I believe that there is the potential for more youth to benefit and learn from #RisingYouth projects regionally and nationally. On Human Rights Day, I call for more knowledge sharing and skills building opportunities for youth around the world.

Q2: What is one human rights issue that you want to advocate for today?

I would like to continue to advocate for the right to affordable and accessible internet and technologies for all youth and students. Projects like these will change youth lives forever, and we should do more to support innovative ideas in our communities. I also hope that youth and students in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries benefit from projects like these. Today, the situation in Afghanistan is chaotic and no one knows what the future holds for young people in this country. I will continue to work for youths around the world and share my knowledge with them in order to change the world. In closing, I would like to share this quote, “Knowledge is Power”. For me this quote really means that if the youth do not have knowledge, they are denied the basic human right to be successful in this world.

You can access Meladul’s presentation here.

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