Youth call for comprehensive reproductive health education

Young ladies captured here from school in Kigali. ICFP Youth Leaders and family planning experts illustrated the barriers young people face while trying to prevent unintended pregnancies.Sam Ngendahimana

Young activists in the area of family planning from around the world have called on global leaders to invest in quality, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.

They were sharing their experiences at the 2018 International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) that concluded in Kigali yesterday.

Through monologues and creative storytelling, ICFP Youth Leaders and family planning experts illustrated the barriers young people face while trying to prevent unintended pregnancies, including misinformation, stigma and provider bias, stock-outs and high costs.

Their stories also explored related topics including sexuality, menstruation and gender equality.

“I have had friends who got pregnant when they were just 16,” said Baye Leinyuy Bongla, an ICFP youth leader and medical doctor from Cameroon.

“This experience changes your life completely. We need to start talking [about access to family planning] so fewer girls have to go through bad experiences. Isn’t it wrong to deny a person the ability to make decisions about their body and live a healthy life?” she posed.

According to a new study released by the Guttmacher Institute this month, 36 million young women aged 15–19 in developing regions are sexually active and want to avoid pregnancy, but most are not using modern contraceptives.

The report notes that, roughly, half of the 9.6 million pregnancies among this group each year are unintended, and about half of these unintended pregnancies end in abortion – most of which are unsafe.

“Investing in sexual and reproductive healthcare that meets adolescents’ needs is critical to ensuring young people are able to make voluntary and informed choices regarding contraception and relationships,” said Dr Ann Biddlecom, Director of International Research at the Guttmacher Institute.

“Young women and men must have access to youth-friendly contraceptive services that include the provision of a wide range of method options, as well as medically accurate counseling and information,” she added.

Youth advocates are at the forefront of this effort, and have implemented creative strategies to eliminate stigma, train providers and overcome barriers young people face in accessing reproductive health services in their local communities.

For Kojo Lokko, the Deputy Director of The Challenge Initiative, “It’s about empowering girls to ask questions, plan their futures, and access contraception without any fear or judgement.”

The plenary was part of a two-day ICFP Youth Pre-conference, which attracted more than 600 youth leaders from over 40 countries to exchange resources to support advocacy, research and programmes in their home communities.

According to organisers, this is the largest contingent of youth leaders in the history of ICFP.

The third day of the 2018 ICFP ended on commitments to action, after FP2020 countries shared their success stories.

Dr Felix Sayinzoga, Division Manager at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, indicated that the Government has been collaborating with faith-based health facilities to raise awareness on all contraceptive methods, something she said has played key role.

“Now women in need of modern contraceptives are referred to outreach services and women seeking natural approaches that align with their faith know their options,” she noted.

Delegates from Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique and Rwanda shared their countries’ progress and lessons learnt, and reflected on common challenges they face when it comes to improving access to family planning services for adolescents and young people.