4 February 2016

Africa: Young People Must Lead Community Family Planning Efforts

Young people should be able to take charge of their sexuality and be included in global discussions on family planning, according to a consensus coming out of last week's International Conference on Family Planning.

Governments and key stakeholders, including include youth-led organisations, health services providers and faith-based organisations, arrived at this agreement after close consultations with young people's organisations at the conference, which took place in Indonesia from 25 to 28 January.

At the conference, representatives of youth organisations vowed to continue advocating for access to contraceptives and family planning services. In fact, delegates noted with great concern that young people should not only be allowed the right to family planning services and products, but should be leaders in their communities.

Successful youth projects

This resolution recognises the achievements of global development partners in supporting projects led by young people around the world.

One example is the Link Up project, a consortium of global and national partners formed in 2013 to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people from key populations in five countries. This means groups of people who are at greater risk of HIV and key people to engage in the HIV response such as sex workers, sexual minorities, and people who use drugs.

Link Up operates in Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi, Bangladesh and Myanmar. It focuses on young people who are most affected by HIV: men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, sex workers and transgender people.

The programme has produced remarkable results in increasing access to SRHR and HIV services and advocating for young people's inclusion in the global family planning agenda.

Family planning for sex workers

Rokonol Rabbi, a youth advocate and a member of Link Up Bangladesh, explains that there are many types of sex work in Bangladesh but girl children are disadvantaged as they are prime targets of the trade.

"What is worrying is that some of the girls are sold into the trade when they are still young and all they have come to know is sex work," he says.

Rabbi further highlights that the challenge with most of these girls is trying to help them re-integrate them into mainstream society, ensuring they are no longer considered as "fresh" in the sex work trade.

"Society does not easily accept ex-sex workers. With such a challenge, the girls end up going back to their business [sex work] even after trying to live a normal life which then becomes a cycle because after growing up they end up manipulating other young girls as well," says Ronokol.

With support from Link Up, Rabbi and other young leaders from his community have been able to generate demand for contraceptives and family planning services by sex workers.

Female condoms in Burundi

Seeing a man wearing a female condom ring inspired 29-year-old Nadia Ndayikeza to start up a female condom project. This informed people in her community about contraceptives, as well as giving women more choice of family planning services and products.

Ndayikeza is a member of the Réseau National des Jeunes vivants avec le VIH/SIDA (RNJ+), a network of young people living with HIV in Burundi.

Discussing with delegates visiting the Link Up booth at the conference, Ndayikeza says demand for female condoms in her community is not met and, for that reason, women are often left with few choices.

"We aim to give women the power of choice through advocating for a full range of family planning services," she says.

RNJ+ offers information, training, HIV counselling and testing, contraceptives, advice, a helpline, and community and school outreach services, with support from Link Up.

Advocacy in Myanmar

Myanmar Youth Stars (MYS) is a network for marginalised young people aged 15 to 30, who are most at risk of HIV infection.

Myo Thet Oo, project officer of MYS, says: "The core value of MYS is to create a safe and healthy environment for all young key populations, with no judgement of their HIV status, gender and sexual orientation."

MYS focuses on advocacy, sexual and reproductive health and rights and sharing best practice. It also helps other youth-based organisations to grow, gain the support of their communities and strengthen their leadership.

Myo further explains that the Link Up programme has helped MYS strengthen the organisation and enhance its advocacy work through training workshops. These have allowed the programme to expand to 17 towns across Myanmar, with two or more representatives in each town.

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