Gender Justice and Young Key Populations

September 17, 2021 Blog_Gender Justice & YKP
Picture credit: @YPEER.asiapacific on Facebook

This is a reflection piece on the session facilitated by Sai from ARROW on Gender Equality, Gender Equity and Gender Justice at the recent YPEER Academy organised by YPEER.  This article presents an examination of the above concepts with a focus on young key populations and what a Gender Justice framework offers to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights of young key populations in Asia.

The Asia Pacific region is home to 60% of the world’s young people. This translates into making it the most youthful region with more than 1.1 billion young people aged 15 to 29, representing more than 25% of the population. [1]

What is a gender justice framework and what potential does this hold to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights of young key populations (YKP) in Asia Pacific? The gender justice transformative framework in its holistic approach, aims to put an end to patriarchy, transphobia and homophobia, with the understanding that gender oppression is not a single-issue struggle and is also tied to classism, racism, ageism, ableism, and gender justice is achieved when all forms of oppression cease to exist. (Third Wave Fund. (

A gender justice framework is inclusive, intersectional, holistic and outcome-oriented and can advance transformative gender equality, leaving no one behind in sustainable development. In the case of Young Key Populations (ykp), this transformative gender justice framework would mean that every young person, including YKP, should be able to develop their full potential and live in freedom and dignity with equal access, opportunities, and outcomes in education, health, sexual and reproductive health, and all facets of development.

The World Health Organisation has defined key populations[2] as people in the following groups: men who have sex with men, people in prisons and other closed settings, people who inject drugs, sex workers and transgender people, including adolescents and young people from key populations, and people with overlapping vulnerabilities and differing risks. Key populations may also include other groups of women living with HIV in contexts of marginalisation or vulnerability, as defined by the local context. Young key populations (YKP) include young transgender persons, young people who inject drugs, young persons with a disability, young gay men and other men who have sex with men, young people selling sex, and young people living with HIV below the age of 29, in a definition put forth by YouthLEAD.[3] These definitions give a broad understanding of YKP.

Applying a gender justice lens would mean equality of outcomes in all aspects of development including SRHR among YKP, without stigma, discrimination and violence.  It is well documented that young key populations (YKP) face many barriers that hinder their fulfilment of sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality. 27% of all new HIV infections in Asia and the Pacific were among young people, and overall, 99% of new HIV infections among young people were among young key populations and their partners. (UNAIDS: 2019). This is the extent of the high risks YKP face in the region. Not only do young people from key populations face widespread discrimination, stigma, and violence, they also face specific vulnerabilities associated with youth, including power imbalances in relationships and sometimes, the impact of alienation from family.[4]

Young people within key populations often have poor access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and services and poor ability to mitigate risks and vulnerabilities, compared with their older, more experienced counterparts.

Discriminatory laws further compound and perpetuate stigma and all forms of violence. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to widen existing inequalities and service gaps.

Within these contexts, a gender justice framework to advance gender equality, equity, justice and rights, would call for the following specific recommendations:

A. Selective prevention approaches targeted at YKP including Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and SRH services, but also targeted prevention strategies including public education, training, and information and access to friendly SRH services.

Access to comprehensive sexuality education in and out of school contexts plays a vital role in promoting the health and well-being of children, adolescents, and young people including YKP who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, transgender persons, and persons who engage in sex work.

Selective preventive CSE, including legal education of one’s rights, improves sexual and reproductive health outcomes, including prevention of sexually transmitted infections and HIV, and promotes safe and healthy environments among YKP.

Selective preventive CSE, public education, training, and information is a necessary core intervention to empower YKP to recognise and address specific vulnerabilities, issues of violence, sexual abuse, and elements of their overall sexual health and well-being including mental health.

Judgmental attitudes within communities create further barriers for YKP’s access to SRH services and addressing these require efforts at structural and systemic level through public support actions and education.

Recognise that inequalities exist and intersect with where young people live, levels of family income or education, digital access, class, race, origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identities and expression and in such circumstances, access to selective preventive approaches would bolster equitable, gender-just SRHR outcomes.

The leadership and active engagement of YKP in their own access to SRHR information and services is a powerful measure of participation and agency.

B. Repealing discriminatory laws, policies and programmes that criminalise same-sex conduct between consenting young people, criminalise gender expression, and laws that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

Punitive laws including criminalisation of sex work, age of consent laws, and other discriminatory legal barriers leave YKP at the margins, denying them access to SRHR services. These laws and policies exacerbate stigma and discrimination resulting in lack of access to quality, user friendly SRHR information and services for YKP and these laws and policies need to be repealed.

Grievance mechanisms and remedies for acts of violence against YKP should be in place and acted upon for redress.

Discriminatory attitudes remain extremely prevalent in societies, exacerbating violence and lack of access to SRHR information and services. Public support initiatives at the community level reinforcing positive SRHR and gender equality norms remain crucial. The sensitisation and training of healthcare workers to provide YKP-friendly SRH services is equally crucial.

Implementation of equal and non-discriminatory policies and programmes reduce discrimination, criminalisation, combat negative social and cultural attitudes, stigma, prejudice, violence, gender inequality, and lead to an affirmative and protective policy environment derived from international human rights standards supportive of YKP.


[1] In Asia, young people are key to achieving national development goals. ADB [Website]. 2021 ( accessed 10 September 2021)

[2] The definition of key populations is taken from the WHO Consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations. 2016 update.

[3] Our Rights Matter Too: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Young Key Populations in Asia and the Pacific. UNAIDS [Website]. 2015 ( accessed 10 September 2021)

[4] Our Rights Matter Too: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Young Key Populations in Asia and the Pacific. UNAIDS [ Website]. 2015 ( accessed 10 September 2021)

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