November 13, 2015

Youth must help lead the movement for sexual and reproductive health and rights

Written by Ana Aguilera, Ipas Youth Associate, Women Deliver Young Leader, ICFP Youth Delegate

This post originally appeared on the Ipas website here. Reposted with permission.

2015-11-09_5640bd0de9de9_photoAnaAguilera.pngA volcanic eruption has prevented young leaders from convening this week at the now-postponed International Conference on Family Planning. But it won’t stop us from talking about the importance of youth voices on this topic!

Young people both need and have a right to access comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health-care services. This includes contraceptive services; pregnancy care; the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections; and safe and accessible abortion.

Safe abortion is often the least accessible and most politicized of these services, and young women face greater barriers to obtaining a safe abortion. It’s no surprise, then, that they’re at higher risk than adult women for resorting to unsafe, clandestine abortions. Young women account for 46 percent of the estimated unsafe abortion-related deaths, and adolescent girls make up 70 percent of all hospitalizations from unsafe abortion complications, according to the World Health Organization.

Putting safe abortion on the global agenda for sexual and reproductive health and rights is a lifesaver for young women. The legal barriers to and criminalization of safe abortion will only make things worse by continuing to stigmatize and isolate young people from health systems, putting us in more danger.  

BUT, recognizing that young people have a right to access sexual and reproductive health services is NOT enough. There are 1.8 billion young people in the world between the ages of 10 and 24: the largest in history! Young people cannot be seen as the future—we must be seen as the present and the now! The international sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) community, including all those who planned to attend ICFP, needs to integrate youth voices into all spheres of the reproductive health services and rights conversation—both at the local and global levels.

Meaningful youth participation is a fundamental right of young people protected under several international treaties and human rights documents, including the International Conference on Population and Development, the Convention on the Rights of a Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Meaningful youth participation is NOT about tokenism, when young people are involved in processes without actually being able to influence those processes or their outcomes. Meaningful youth participation IS about young people being able to make a real contribution and being given opportunities to provide input and have their ideas listened to and considered. Meaningful youth participation IS about building real partnerships between young people and adults based on mutual respect and trust.

What does meaningful youth participation in sexual and reproductive health and rights look like to you?