25 January 2016

Africa: International Conference On Family Planning - Before We Commit, Let's Act!

'Global commitments, local actions' is the theme for this year's International Conference on Family Planning in Indonesia, which kicked off with a youth pre-conference on 24 January.

The energy, passion and zeal exhibited by participants and organisers was palpable from the start at the Bali Nusa Dua Convention Centre, where the two-day youth event was held, and is being followed by the main conference (25-28 January).

Individuals, non-governmental organisations, governments, faith-based organisations and youth-led organisations are converging during the conference to share best practices for family planning, celebrate successes and learn ways of advancing the FP2020 Commitment to Action. The Commitment supports the rights of women and girls to decide, freely, and for themselves, whether, when, and how many children they want to have.

The youth pre-conference served as a space for young people from different backgrounds to share and build on work they have done locally, identify challenges, share lessons and proffer actionable solutions.

Actions, lessons and challenges

Workshops and roundtable discussions addressed key issues affecting young people, such as using social media to publicise their work, identifying key policymakers, and addressing challenges to accessing services.

Francis Armah, a Women Deliver Young Leader from Ghana, shared an advocacy method centered on stories from young women and girls who are comfortable to share their challenges and experiences around sexual and reproductive health and rights. The stories are used during advocacy campaigns and trainings and some of the volunteer storytellers are also recruited and trained as peer educators to promote positive behavior change among their peers.

Maureen Oduor, an alumna of the Women Deliver Young Leader programme, said: "Story telling is very important as it concerns real people and it is real people that are dying when it is not done properly." She also added that creating a safe environment for discussion is the only way young people can come out with their stories, for example they share stories with their peers because they feel safe with them.

Some of the recurring challenges for young people identified at the pre-conference include limited knowledge base, lack of inclusion, and funding. These can be addressed by supporting organisations that work with marginalised young people, said Jamila Gacheri of Y-PEER Kenya. "I believe that youth-led organisations and networks in particular should be supported and strengthened because they contribute to the development of civic and leadership skills among young people especially the marginalised youths," she said.

Young people's rights

Link Up is a project in Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Bangladesh and Myanmar which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of more than one million young people who are most affected by HIV and to promote their SRH rights. The Link Up team organised a workshop at the pre-conference to discuss a rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health and the needs of young people living with and affected by HIV.

The participants comprised mainly young Indonesian delegates, some of whom had no background in family planning (despite the facilitators' expectations that participants would have some knowledge of sexual and reproductive health). However, this provided an opportunity for Link Up facilitators to engage them in an in-depth knowledge-sharing session that eventually provided diverse views and beliefs on youth sexual and reproductive health and rights.

One of the facilitators Rawnak Rabbi, from Link Up Bangladesh, shared a story to drive home the positive effects of family planning uptake and practice on families. "We used to joke with our grandmother that she had a football team because she had 11 children," he said. However, due to the increase in access to family planning services the average number of children per family in Bangladesh has begun to decrease.

Several participants expressed a belief that abstinence was the best way to protect one's sexual health. In response to this Nikodimos Takele, from Youth Champions Initiative, Ethiopia said: "What is expressed and what is practiced are totally different and young people often have sex without planning for it."

Facilitator Julie Mellin, from the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, shared her personal beliefs on premarital sex when a participant asked if it was a sin for young people to engage in pre-marital sex. She said: "The most important thing is to access the right information and for both parties to consent before taking any decisions."

For the most part however the youth pre-conference failed to address the salient issue of key populations affected by HIV, and taking a rights-based approach to family planning, and sexual and reproductive health. Such conversations must be given more of the spotlight to ensure young populations groups who are often marginalised - such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as sex workers and people who use drugs - are also given access to SRH services.

Mohammad Isro Alfajri, youth ambassador at the Duta Mahasiswa GenRe (Indonesia Colleges Youth Alliance), Indonesia, made a good point when he said: "Where family planning is going in future depends on this generation and it is not about quantity but about quality."


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