September 24, 2014

Why the SDGs must deliver for young people

Written by Ulla Muller, Country Director, Marie Stopes Tanzania

Tanzania is at a turning point. With over 50% of the population under the age of 20*, Tanzania is younger than it has ever been and ever will be, creating a situation that is full of potential but also challenges.

Over the next 10-15 years, Tanzania’s largest ever population of adolescents will become its largest ever population of young workers. This shift from a large proportion of dependants to a large proportion of economically productive individuals represents an opportunity for accelerated growth, often referred to as a ‘demographic dividend’.

But unless the needs of young people are heard and prioritised – particularly around sexual and reproductive health – this unique opportunity for economic and social transformation will be lost.

With most sub-Saharan African countries approaching the same watershed moment, young people’s unmet need for sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights must be recognised at a global level.

The next round of development goals simply must deliver for the 1.8 billion young people who make up the world’s largest ever youth generation.

The scale of the problem

In Tanzania, the need for improved access to sexual and reproductive information and healthcare is clear. Some 24% of pregnancies are unintended and almost half of the girls and women who don’t want to get pregnant aren’t able to do anything about it.**

For young people the situation is even worse. It’s more common for girls under the age of 19 to have experienced pregnancy than it is for them to have used family planning before the age of 24***. And as many as 23% of Tanzanian women fall pregnant between the ages of 15 and 19, which forces them out of school before completing secondary education. Inevitably it also leads many to turn in desperation to unsafe abortion.

In order to fulfil their potential for economic transformation, young people need to be able to complete their education and start their careers without these life plans being derailed by unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion.

As the numbers of people who are young and sexually active continue to increase in Tanzania, these issues will only intensify. Something has to be done.

Campaigning for sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights in Tanzania

Tanzania currently lacks a coordinated national strategy for addressing the needs of its youth generation. For that to change, we need to advocate for the empowerment of young people, and for their voices and needs to be recognised at both a national and global level.

As one of the country’s leading healthcare providers – serving approximately 30% of the contraceptive methods used by women and 70% of all long term and permanent methods – Marie Stopes Tanzania has a responsibility to play a leading role in promoting this national discourse.

Our first step towards achieving a political response to young people’s rights and needs has been to convene a national SRHR advocacy coalition, with the support of Danida and alongside Tanzanian organisations and expert partners, such as: Advance Family Planning, Centre for Disease Control, DSW, Engender Health, Pathfinder, Restless Development, Tanzanian Association of Women Lawyers, Tanzanian Media Women’s Association, Tanzanian Midwives Association, UMATI and World Lung Foundation.

The coalition aims to gather and present information and evidence that shows the value of investing in youth and sexual and reproductive health, and to target key decision makers who can put these on Tanzania’s political agenda.

Prioritising the global agenda

As world leaders meet in New York to discuss the future of global development, Marie Stopes International urges them to remember young people.

There is over a year of negotiations ahead, and whilst access to sexual and reproductive healthcare is part of the current drafts, its inclusion is far from guaranteed, and still there is no reference to universal access to sexual rights.

Policy makers must ensure that sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights are strongly represented in the new goals. By doing so, we can better equip young people to live their future and realise their potential, transforming countries like Tanzania along the way. And if we do that, we will be looking at a much brighter post-2015 world.