SLYCAN Trust conducted a Motivational Session on Health on the 28th of November at the #Youth4Youth symposium organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The 4-day Youth4 Youth symposium held in Anuradhapura created a platform for youth participants from the Northern and North Western Provinces to engage with the public and private sector networks in order to promote youth participation in decision making and to build sustainable communities. The audience comprising of more than 100 youth participants equally represented both male and females.
Both the physical and mental aspect of health (bringing in disabilities and the social justice angle to mental health and wellbeing) were focused on in the session. Refreshing the audience on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that has set the global framework to which Sri Lanka can locally connect its development strategies, SLYCAN Trust, firstly provided an in-depth understanding about the importance of Health to the achievement of the SDGs, which would not only include SDG 3 on Good Health and Well-being but would cut across many other SDGs such as SDG 12 on Responsible Production and Consumption, SDG 13 on Climate Action, SDG 15 on Life on Land, to name a few.
Secondly, it was also highlighted that adopting a sustainable lifestyle comprised of the sustainability of the entire local food system including production, processing, distribution, access, consumption and resource/waste management. Focusing on the production aspect of food, it was mentioned that food production is a major contributor to climate change as the global food system contributes to at least 19-29% of all emissions and agriculture to approximately 25% of the total. It was underscored that industrial livestock supply chains contributed to 14.5 percent of human-induced green house gas (GHG) emissions.
Using graphical representations to present to the audience the global GHG emissions of industrial animal agriculture for meat or milk production, cattle rearing was apparent as the main global emitter of GHG emissions. It was pointed out that chicken meat dominated the meat industry taking seventy per cent of the market demand in Sri Lanka despite religious values promoting meatless lifestyles in the country. The health hazards of meat and processed meat consumption were also emphasized pointing out the link with cancer.
Therefore, a need for a change in our dietary patterns was stated while providing an example of a recent study performed under the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food. The study modelled the global emissions impact of a number of dietary scenarios until 2050 and found out that the adoption of a vegetarian diet based on a healthy energy intake would see a 45% reduction in emissions by 2050 and the adoption of a vegan diet based on a healthy energy intake would cut total food emissions by 55% by 2050.
While encouraging vegetarians and vegans in the audience to continue their consumption patterns, it was insisted that a nutritious diet and regular exercise are needed because being vegetarian or vegan by default did not guarantee good health.
The audience was introduced to the awareness campaigns conducted by SLYCAN Trust in partnership with Humane Society International. Meatless Monday Sri Lanka campaign focuses on creating awareness on the impacts of meat consumption on the planet, through press conferences, panel discussions and pledges. Knowledge material was distributed to the participants with guidance on how they could be shared as tools in the adoption of their community projects that they were to develop at the sessions.
It was underscored that the prevalent religious and cultural grounds promoting meatless lifestyles and animal welfare can be capitalized on for the implementation of their future projects on sustainable lifestyles.
Focusing on the mental aspect of health, the social frustration and mental dilemma undergone by individuals with physical or mental disabilities due to social stigma and lack of facilities to accommodate differently-abled citizens of Sri Lanka were presented to the audience as an impediment to the achievement of SDGs, especially SDG 3- Good Health and Well-being.
Providing statistical data from the Census of Population and Housing 2012, it was stated that of Sri Lankans within the age of 5 to 19 years, fifty three percent of males and forty seven per cent of females are mentally and physically disabled and have been deprived from the access to education and employment. It was stated that only sixty two per cent receive school education while thirty four per cent has not received any form of formal education. The legal framework ensuring the rights of Persons with Disabilities were pointed out including the Article 12 of (1) of the Sri Lankan constitution that guarantees the right to equality and non-discrimination as a fundamental right, Act for the Protection of Rights of Persons with Disabilities enacted in 1996 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ratified by Sri Lanka on the 8th of February 2016.
The barriers to equality and accessibility for children and youth with special needs were denoted as the lack of implementation of laws and practices, lack of data on disability in the country, the stigma, myths, and misconceptions about disabilities and the lack of awareness. The members of the audience were encouraged to take into consideration these barriers in the development of their projects related to Good Health and Wellbeing. Social media campaigns done by SLYCAN Trust for the World Autism Day and Inclusive Education for All can be used as techniques to promote these factors in the community led projects developed by the audience. The session concluded by highlighting the importance of SDG 17- Partnership for Goals as a necessity for Sri Lanka to achieve sustainable development, thereby requiring the youth leaders at the forum to tap into potential networks and collaborate to help develop sustainable communities.
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