By Kigen Korir, National Programme Coordinator, SRHR Alliance in Kenya; Hellen Owino, Advocacy Officer, Centre for the Study of Adolescents in Kenya; and Lara van Kouterik, Senior Programme Officer SRHR, Simavi in The Netherlands
We have the largest generation of young people ever.
The world must listen to young people’s voices. It must ensure that we have the opportunity to influence policies that affect us, especially in setting the new development agenda for the era beyond 2015. It must understand that young people know what they want and need, and are committed to safeguarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
Too often, the voices of young people are drowned out by those of adult policymakers who think they know what young people need and assume young people are “too young” to articulate their issues effectively. For many years, these assumptions have limited the opportunities and constricted the space for young people to participate meaningfully in the creation of the development programs and policies that will have a direct impact on their lives.
At a recent side event during the Commission on Population and Development, young people voiced their concerns, shared best practices, and discussed key issues with other stakeholders. The event was hosted by Simavi (an NGO based in the Netherlands), the permanent mission of Ghana to the UN, and SRHR Alliances from Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi, and was attended by representatives, including youth, from country delegations; SRHR advocates; policy makers; and young people.
“Involving young people in SRHR is a basic right enshrined in the laws of many countries, and it is therefore incumbent for countries to observe the same,” explained Edith Asamani, a youth representative from Curious Minds Ghana.
Aisha Twalibu, a youth representative from YECE in Malawi, explained to the group that young people are a diverse group with different needs, and that listening to their voices will help governments, CSOs and development agencies tailor SRHR programs to their needs.
Three other young Africans shared case studies on youth SRHR programs. First, Chris Kyewe from Family Life Education Programme described his peer education program in Uganda, in which youth peer educators (YPEs) are trained to give SRHR information and education to their peers and refer young people to local health centers where trained healthcare providers offer youth-friendly services. In addition to education, YPEs also provide their peers with condoms and oral contraceptive pills, together with instructions on how to use them. This example showed how young people are meaningfully engaged in the implementation of the program.
Then Hellen Owino from the Centre for the Study of Adolescents in Kenya shared that comprehensive sexuality education programs in Kenya empower young people to make informed choices about their health and sexuality. CSA and the Kenya SRHR Alliance have been engaged in advocacy to include comprehensive sexuality education in the national curriculum of Kenya. She also shared that CSE programs should be appealing and interactive, for example by using ICT and social media, to capture the attention of young people. Justine Saidi, the Principal Secretary for Youth in Malawi also called for the active involvement of parents in demanding that young people have access to sexuality information.
Charles Banda from YONECO shared the last case study that focused on preventing child marriage in Malawi. He shared his experience in working with youth-led organizations to build awareness on the negative impact of child marriages on girls and communities, creating a more enabling environment for young girls to exercise their rights. He also described how civil society organizations in Malawi have advocated successfully to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 years, which was recently made into law by the President of Malawi.
Highlighting lessons from the women’s movement, the side event concluded with a discussion of key strategies for youth advocates, including:
- Mobilizing a critical mass of young people
- Holding governments accountable for fulfilling their national and international commitments
- Investing in ensuring that health data can be disaggregated by age group, especially for young people aged 10 to 14
- Identifying champions at all levels to advance the youth and SRHR agenda
It is time that young people’s views and concerns are incorporated into the new development agenda. Without listening to young people, no country will be able to realize the potential of the demographic dividend that comes with this generation.