Africa: Nothing About Us Without Us - Rwanda and Malawi Part of New Initiative to Focus On Engaging Youth Around Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Vancouver, Canada - Women Deliver 2019

Women Deliver, Girl Effect, and the Government of Canada (Global Affairs Canada), announced a new research initiative focused on engaging youth as researchers and advocates around youth sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). The multi-country project will take place in India, Malawi, and Rwanda and will engage youth as advisors, researchers, and advocates. The initiative aims to generate insights that will shape the investment case for youth-friendly SRHR interventions, such as modern contraception or gender-based violence counseling. In addition, the results will equip youth with the evidence needed to carry forward their own advocacy efforts.

"If we want youth policies and programs to work, and get bang for our investment buck, we need to involve youth all the way. They are the experts on their own lives, and know what they need. They are the game-changers and the best spokespersons for their sexual and reproductive health and rights," said Katja Iversen, President/CEO of Women Deliver. "Youth are the key to success, and we need to listen, learn, involve, and take action accordingly."

The project will rely on Girl Effect's award-winning Technology Enabled Girl Ambassadors (TEGA) programme; a mobile-based peer-to-peer research methodology where young women between 17-24 are trained to become fully qualified researchers within their communities.

"Our sector needs accurate, fast and authentic data and insights about young people, and the unique challenges they face, in order to design, iterate and evaluate programmes to ensure they're as effective as possible," said Jessica Odede, CEO of Girl Effect. "TEGA's unique approach unlocks conversations that might otherwise be lost or not included when collecting data in traditional ways, and ensures even the hardest to reach voices are included. Better yet, the TEGA programme is a form of employment and empowerment for our young researchers too."

Multiple data and knowledge gaps remain regarding youth's sexual and reproductive health. Youth are often not engaged in shaping health services due to systematic barriers and persistent marginalization. Initiatives that engage youth throughout have the potential to better address the needs of communities in a sustainable way.The research, funded by Global Affairs Canada, will equip decision-makers with the information they need to create more inclusive health systems.

Through consultations, youth will shape the primary research question and TEGAs will collect the corresponding data. Further, a Youth Advisory Board on research will facilitate input from Women Deliver Young Leaders--outstanding young advocates for gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women--on the initiative.

"Applying meaningful youth engagement to the research process - including implementation and dissemination - shifts power to young people themselves," said Sruthi Chandrasekaran, researcher at Ibis Reproductive Health and Women Deliver Young Leader (Class of 2016). "Our movement must honor and trust young people as experts of their own sexual and reproductive rights."

The initial research findings will be shared at the 25th Anniversary of the International Conference for Population and Development in Nairobi, Kenya.

"This research will come at a critical time in the world's effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. By meaningfully engaging young people in research, we are better equipped to respond to adolescents' sexual and reproductive health needs--which in turn creates healthier, more prosperous societies," says the Honorable Maryam Monsef, Canada's Minister of International Development and Minister for Women and Gender Equality.

Working alongside with Global Affairs Canada and Girl Effect, Women Deliver will share this research with key decision-makers and policymakers--advocating for not only youth-vetted improvements to health services--but the consistent engagement of youth in the development of future SRHR programs. In addition, the findings will inform advocacy and accountability efforts from the community level to the national level--which could range from consultations with policymakers to developing guidelines that require youth input on programs intended to serve them. By doing so, communities and governments stand to gain a healthier and more engaged generation of youth.

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