19 May 2016

Africa: Women Deliver 2016 - Young People Demand Sexual and Reproductive Rights

At an international conference in Copenhagen, young people have charged leaders with an important task: to realise commitments to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people everywhere.

As the Women Deliver conference (16-19 May) drew to a close, this included a particular call to improve young people's access to contraception, especially girls, and access to essential HIV prevention and healthcare services.

Chiamaka Uzomba, a participant from Nigeria, said: "We as young people are pushing for improved access to HIV prevention and healthcare services because we are most-at-risk. Our future is important and it is the responsibility of our leaders to ensure that this future is not hampered by unfavourable policies or environment limiting young people's access to contraception, HIV prevention and healthcare services. We are linking up as young people to form a formidable force with our voices heard and actions taken to improve our sexual and reproductive health and rights."

Why focus on young people?

According to the UNAIDS Gap Report, not everyone has equitable access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services. This includes young people who are often more sexually active, putting them at even greater risk of exposure. Worryingly, less than 20 percent of sexually active young people in Africa use contraception.

According to a report by United Nations Population Fund, an estimated 200 million women want to delay or avoid pregnancy but are not using effective contraceptive methods. About 90 percent of abortion-related deaths and disabilities worldwide could be avoided if women who wished to, had access to effective contraception.

This statistic highlights the need to improve young people's access to contraception not only to avoid pregnancy but also to avoid sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, syphilis, and gonorrhea. Women Deliver aims to provide opportunities for young people to engage with each other and leaders, create coalitions, forge partnerships and drive progress in ensuring better health for young people - in particular maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights - and on gender equality, education, environment, and economic empowerment.

Annie Lennox, a Scottish singer and political activist, said: "AIDS continues to be the leading cause of death of girls of reproductive age globally because young women are most vulnerable. Ending it by 2030 requires sustained political will and improved financing. We need to ensure a better future for our girls and cannot let them down. I stand with everyone living with HIV, it distinguishes me from just being a rockstar celebrity."

Putting the spotlight on developing countries

In Africa, according to the UNAIDS report, AIDS is the leading cause of death for adolescents and it is the second leading cause of adolescent deaths globally. Young people in most developing countries are more at risk of HIV and lack access to contraception because of the slow pace of development and the lack of interest by country leaders to include them in decision-making.

Moji Makanjuola, executive director of International Society of Media in Public Health, said: "The media has a big role to play in pushing for an improvement in young people's sexual and reproductive health and rights. Often, sexual and reproductive health services are designed with older adults in mind. But educating young people on such issues is the best way to tackle them because knowledge is powerful and would enable young people to make the right decisions."

Julie Mellin, manager of the Global Youth Coalition on HIV and AIDS (GYCA), said: "Our Link Up project which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health of young people most affected by HIV and to promote the realisation of young people's sexual and reproductive rights in Africa, is achieving great results. More young people now have a voice to speak about issues affecting their sexual and reproductive health and rights. We hope that with the provision of more technical and financial support, this initiative will spread to other parts of the world having a dire need for an improved sexual and reproductive health and rights for youth."

Proffering solutions

Katja Iversen, executive director of Women Deliver, said: "We need to put girls and women first at the center of development, as an investment in girls guarantees that everybody wins."

Young people should be brought to decision-making tables to ensure that no one is left behind in implementing the new global goals for sustainable development, which run from 2016-2030, and include the target to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services.

Jill Sheffield, founder of Women Deliver, said: "I hope the three days of the conference will serve as a booster dose to our efforts in ensuring that young people's sexual and reproductive health especially girls is made a priority."

It is time, and the voices of young people matter. They should be heard because the future of the next generation is dependent on the youth of today.


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