Youth Engagement Leads to Global Action! Celebrating International Youth Day 2020

To mark International Youth Day 2020, we are celebrating our four recent interviewees in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, all of whom are devoted to empowering youth and extending youth education on SRHR issues in their community. This year’s theme, Youth Engagement for Global Action, honours the ways in which the engagement of young people at local, national and international levels enriches society. Our moment is a fraught one, with the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world population while only 10 years remain to meet the 2030 Agenda. Engaging youth in political processes increases the fairness of those processes, contributes to more sustainable policies, and helps to restore failing faith in public institutions.

The challenges we face at the moment – COVID-19 and its myriad effects, such as increases in gender-based violence (GBV) in lockdown; the diversion of health system resources away from sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and the fallout associated with this reallocation of resources, which include increases in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies; as well as climate change – call for global action and meaningful engagement and participation on the part of the next generation.

Valerie Kwena, photographed by Brian Otieno for DSW.
  • Valerie Kwena (27) is an advocate for the rights of women and girls and the co-founder of the grassroots organisation called M.A.D (Making A Difference) Sisters, which is based and operating in Kibera. She shared her experience with how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her work and community.

“Everything is targeted towards slowing the spread of COVID-19, but what about the needs of women and young girls in the community? We might end up curbing COVID-19 but, looking back, there will be a great backslide on SRHR issues. To all stakeholders and policymakers, do what you have to do but do not forget to look at the needs of the women and young girls.” Read Valerie’s account here or watch it on our YouTube channel.

Yasmin Mohammed, photographed by Brian Otieno for DSW.
  • Yasmin Mohammed (26) is the founder of the community-based organisation Superb in Kibera and also a menstrual health champion. She shared her experience with how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected access to SRH services and commodities.

“Before COVID-19, we used to share our knowledge and information on SRH services at mass gatherings where we met with youths, women and girls. If girls don’t have comprehensive knowledge about SRHR, in three months from now, many will end up getting pregnant because they are not able to make informed decisions about their bodies and their lives.” Read Yasmin’s story here or watch it on our YouTube channel.

Everlyne Bowa, photographed by Brian Otieno for DSW.
  • Everlyne Bowa is the founder of the Kibera-based organisation Agape Woman and Child Empowerment Foundation (AWOCHE Foundation) and is a champion for maternal health issues in her community. She shared her experience with how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected maternal health.

“You find that there are so many pregnant women who don’t know what to do because access to health facilities has reduced. COVID-19 has created a lot of challenges for pregnant women because they are scared to contract the virus and to put the baby at risk.” Read Everlyne’s experience here or watch it on our YouTube channel.

Joyce Wanjiru, photographed by Brian Otieno for DSW.
  • Joyce Wanjiru (29) is the current Miss Kibera, the annual contest held in Kibera to recognise young leaders in the community. She runs the Beyond the Scars mentorship programme where she talks to and mentors young people on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). She is the latest Kibera-based champion to speak to us about COVID-19, this time with a focus on how the virus has affected access to family planning measures.

“Young people in Kibera were able to access family planning and contraception services at health care facilities that have been set up all around the slum, but most don’t know they should go to these facilities because they have not been empowered; they don’t know the importance of contraceptives and also some of them are scared to be judged by whomever they find at the facilities.” Read Joyce’s interview here or watch it on our YouTube channel.

Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a rise in teenage pregnancies in Kenya, with an estimated 20,828 girls aged 10-14 and over 24,000 girls aged 15-19 becoming pregnant. The National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) indicates that adolescent girls have a much higher risk of complications, injury and even death in their pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s and 30s. For this reason, it is all the more important to establish youth-friendly, high-quality, comprehensive reproductive health services designed to address the diverse needs of adolescents and youth, so that they can live to their full potential.

The Guttmacher Institute’s 2019 study Adding It Up shows that adolescents, in particular, have a significant unmet need for sexual and reproductive health care. Adolescent women face many barriers to obtaining this essential health care, including being afraid to admit that they are sexually active or, on the other end of the spectrum, being under social pressure to have a child.

In the 132 low and middle-income countries (LMICs) assessed in the study, many young women become sexually active, marry, and begin to have children between the ages of 15 and 19, with about one in five (21%) of young women married before 18, the age of legal adulthood. This harmful practice results in these girls having little power within the marriage to protect their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Outside of the home, they often lack the support of policies and programs to help them make informed decisions about their sexual life. As a result, adolescents have an estimated 21 million pregnancies each year, half of which are unintended.

The Guttmacher Institute reports that 32 million adolescent women in LMICs require family planning measures. Their age bracket shows a disproportionately high degree (43%) of unmet need for modern contraception. The large majority (85%) of adolescent women with an unmet need for modern methods are using no method at all. If all women in LMICs who wish to avoid a pregnancy had access to modern contraceptives, unintended pregnancies would drop by 68% – that is 76 million fewer unintended pregnancies.

Adolescents are a highly vulnerable group whose ability to meet their sexual and reproductive health needs is impacted by the difficulty of making their voices heard on matters related to their sexuality. Because of this, adolescence is a critical time to invest in sexual and reproductive health. This means increasing youth-friendly contraceptive, pregnancy- and newborn health-related information and services so that the health and rights of young people are fully supported.

This International Youth Day, we must stand with the youth of today and ensure that they have access to the full range of their sexual and reproductive rights! Where do you stand? Stand with us – stand Right By Her.

Join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #RightByHer.

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