According to the UN, there are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 years in the world, and 600 million are adolescent girls and youth women (AGYW). Youth, especially AGYW, have specific needs and opportunities to improve their health and well-being throughout different stages of their lives. More than 1.2 million adolescents die every year, mostly due to preventable causes such as violence, self-harm, infectious diseases, and maternal conditions. We are not on track to achieve gender equality per Sustainable Development Goal 5; at the rate we are going, it will take 300 years to end child marriage and more than 200 to close gaps in legal protections. This calls for greater commitment and aggression: we need more investments and action to advance gender equality now!
In honor of International Youth Day, we, a group of young adults who facilitated a JSI-hosted Women Deliver 2023 conference youth-related side event, are highlighting what we heard from our peers.
Increasing access to comprehensive information
Our peers at the session emphasized the need to enhance access to accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health (SRH). This information helps young people make informed decisions about their lives and bodies. Ways to do this include setting up friendly spaces for girls to discuss SRH and developing methods for accessing information online and offline that respect young people’s privacy and confidentiality. It’s also critical that information be available in formats and platforms that meet the needs of young people at any education and literacy level, no matter where they live.
Normalizing conversations about SRH
Many young people who attended our session want to debunk stigma and discomfort about discussing SRH with their peers, parents, and community leaders. To do this, they highlighted the need to involve men and boys in SRH, specifically through training on topics like menstruation and contraception. Youth also suggested that parents, teachers, health service providers, and community leaders be taught to normalize conversations about SRH. This could be supported by education and training on SRH at different stages of childhood and adolescence, while recognizing that people have varying levels of comfort discussing SRH and helping them understand the importance of doing so.
Increasing AGYW’s self-confidence
AGYW around the world live in environments that diminish their self-confidence. Our peers expressed the desire to increase AGYW’s sense of self-confidence by creating positive and supportive environments. For example, many suggested initiating support groups for girls to encourage each other to acknowledge and share their strengths, pursue their goals, and celebrate their individuality. Youth also recommended developing curricula on comprehensive sexuality education and SRH and rights for schools and community spaces. Another priority was increased access to menstrual hygiene products.
Being inspired about the future
Our peers said that many AGYW are hopeless. To inspire AGYW to see a positive future for themselves, young people at the event called for policies to improve school completion and implement training and mentorship programs for young entrepreneurs. Some suggested using social media or entertainment platforms to show young adults navigating major life moments. They also emphasized the importance of media representation. Seeing girls they could relate to would indicate possibilities available for them. It’s essential that young women feel a part of the world they live in and have opportunities to excel in every aspect of their lives.
Including young people in the development of SRH programming
Young people need to be a part of the conversation and development of SRH programming. This requires more localized funding for youth experts and advocates, and their involvement in research and data collection activities.
AGYW can create the futures they want for themselves and their peers if they are permitted and resourced to do so. It is the responsibility of allies and partners to support young people as experts in their own lives. We must hold ourselves accountable so that the insights and ideas we hear from AGYW in fora like ours are realized through action. We hope you will join us in amplifying youth voices and integrating their needs into future programming. Happy International Youth Day!
- Belindar Kwamboka, Communications and Social Media Associate, HCDExchange
- Laetitia Kayitesi, Senior Researcher, YLabs
- Sandra Manyanye, Community Based Facilitator, Violence Prevention for AGYW, Bantwana Zimbabwe
- Sonia Umutoni, Junior Communications Designer, YLabs
- Swarali Pandare, Youth Leadership Hub Associate, HCDExchange
- Toure Sira Sojourner, FWA Ambassador/HCDExchange, SRH Intern with UNFPA
- Victoria Quaynor, Youth Leadership Hub Associate, HCDExchange