Youth-led action for Sexual Rights and Reproductive Health
Let’s celebrate all the great work youth are doing in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). We hope for these stories to inspire others and join our movement. #youthchoose
You might ask: why this focus? Aren’t we all change makers, no matter our age? Our point is, while youth make up a significant share of the world population, we are not represented accordingly. There are 1.2 billion youth (age 15 to 24) which are 16% of the world’s population, but how much say do we have in the decisions being made on our behalf? According to Population Reference Bureau (PRB), by 2050 Africa’s young population will have risen from 20% in 2015 to 35% in 2050. While many perceive youth growth as a burden on resources and infrastructure, we believe young people can be better utilized toward creating solutions for many of our current problems in the world.
This won’t happen automatically, and heavily depends on education services, employment and of course information and services on sexual and reproductive health and rights. However, we don’t want to be passive recipients but active creators of the change we imagine. We strongly believe in youth-led action. Luckily, youth participation and leadership are recurring themes on the global agenda. In this article, we want to celebrate and acknowledge some of our leaders in Africa who tirelessly empower their peers in their communities and organize for better sexual and reproductive health and rights. Most of them work through grassroots organizations, non-governmental organizations, or have established local and regional youth movements. Although their efforts impact hundreds on a daily basis, they are rarely appreciated.
Here are a few examples of the many leaders who are doing their best for their communities:
Name: Selma Iyambo
Chairperson: Khomas Youth Action Movement
Written by: Josaphat Tjiho
Selma is the chairperson of the Khomas Region Youth Action Movement, an initiative of the Namibian Planned Parenthood Association (NAPPA). Through this initiative, Selma has been working on the issues of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) for 2.5 years now. For example, she has been actively engaged in doing HIV testings and giving out information on SRH and family planning (FP). To engage more youths on the issues of SRH, the Youth Action Movement has partnered up with USAID Namibia and started an organization called Ombetja Yehinga Organisation (OYO). OYO educates youth on issues of SRH via performing arts (dance, music and drama).
Selma has not only been active in Namibia, she has also represented Namibia in international meetings in Kenya where she talked more about the issues of SRH. She gave a report on how the country has been progressing in SRH and family planning. The Youth Connect Initiative came out of these meetings which uses different social media platforms to connect with youth on the issues of SRH and FP.
Selma says she sees progress in the area of youth and SRH. Nevertheless, some still believe that youth are being encouraged to have sex. Selma’s main goal is to bring comprehensive sexuality education into schools in order to educate youths and enable them to make informed choices on their SRH.
Name: Priscilla Ikos Usiobaifo
Founder, Brave Hearts Initiative
Written by: Chibuike Alagboso
Priscilla Ikos Usiobaifo is a self-acclaimed international village girl. The name, albeit a little comical, has originated from the 4th Family Planning conference in Nigeria. The name resonated with participants at the conference when Priscilla introduced herself during a presentation and spoke about how she conceptualizes global ideas for implementation at community level. Priscilla Usiobaifo is an adolescent/youth SRH advocate. She is known for her commitment, consistency and determination to serve rural communities in Edo State, located in the south-southern region of Nigeria where access to SRHR information and FP services is limited.
She achieves this through her organization, BraveHeart Initiative for Youth & Women (BHI) which she founded in 2007. Priscilla’s organization also serves sexually abused girls by ensuring that they have comprehensive services (emergency contraceptive and PEP inclusive) and get justice by ensuring law enforcement officers apprehend and prosecute perpetrators. This sometimes puts her at risk. In 2017, BHI had been responsible for the convictions of five (5) sexual offenders. Through BHI, Priscilla actively advocates for the inclusion of young people in SRHR and FP programming. She is very vocal in Nigeria’s development community and as much as her organization focuses on rural issues, she is involved in various national conferences and high level technical meetings.
According to Priscilla, she is motivated to continue working in the SRHR and FP space because “As a young person, it is important that I deliberately and intentionally plan my life. A lot of decisions we make today as young persons shape our lives in the future. For every pregnant teen, I see an attempt to thwart a dream. Pregnancies are preventable; this is why we must get to zero unplanned pregnancy. Future Planning is the most cost effective and sustainable mechanism towards addressing teenage pregnancies and other development issues in Nigeria as well as Africa.”
In Nigeria, FP indices are presently very poor with a total fertility rate of 5.5 and high unmet needs for FP services. The Nigerian government as well as relevant development partners recognize the importance of meeting the FP needs of young people but this recognition has not translated into action. Adolescent and Youth Sexual & Reproductive Health (AYSRH) programs that increase access to future planning services are catalytic for development. With the work of people like Priscilla, youth SRHR will hopefully improve.
Youth Change Maker And Human Rights Educator
Written by: Ramya Jawahar
Bordered by Ghana to the west and Benin to the east, the République Togolaise or Togo is nestled in West Africa. Since the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals in 2013, Togo has re-committed itself to reproductive rights. The government has an action plan for ‘repositioning family planning’. The urgency is from the stark reality that the region has one of the highest fertility rates with unplanned pregnancies that pose serious health risks for mothers and children.
No one understands the need for action better than Dzahini Élagbé. Community youth leader and a national coordinator with the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP), Dzahini has spearheaded a number of rights based programmes in both urban and rural spaces for teenagers. In his experience, peer education is a long term commitment towards building knowledge and relationships around the language of SRHR.
Working a day job as consultant in corporate finance, Dzahini began investing his time in what he believed was a challenge for the country but an opportunity for youth. With the support of communities and other young leaders, Dzahini runs 4 initiatives which address themes that are critical conversations young people want to have who are often denied information. Discussions on personal hygiene, safe sex practices, consent and health are always central to his programs.
Dzahini’s incredible efforts contribute in a tremendous way to the region and addressing its challenges on access to FP. To the young people of Togo, FP and access to contraceptives is not realised in vacuum, it is part of a larger human rights framework. “Young people are at the center of the development of our respective nations” Dzahini shared, “they are a very important resource. Their good health and better choices will give the world a new generation that is empowering themselves”.
Learn more about Dzahini and other amazing youth like him here.
Name: Rewan Youssif
The Girl Generation Programme Officer in Egypt
Written by: Norhan Bader
Rewan serves as the Girl Generation Programme Officer in Egypt and is a representative of the youth constituency of the All In Leadership Group to End Adolescents’ AIDS. She also works as a consultant with CARE International in Egypt to raise awareness for female Syrian and African refugees on Sexual and Gender Based Violence with a special focus on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) and child marriage. She has 3 years of experience in the field of SRH and HIV/AIDS. Rewan has also advocated for the rights of women and young people with governments, UN Agencies and within her own country. She has also conducted awareness campaigns and training sessions targeting women, young people, Arab and African female refugees talking about Sexual and Gender Based Violence including sexual harassment, domestic abuse, early marriage, FGM/C and sexual violence.
Rewan just launched a new campaign in Egypt targeting young people to raise awareness on FGM: “According to the recent statistics, 70% of young people are planning to circumcise their daughters in the future, and as the Girl Generation Programme Officer, I thought of launching a social media campaign with the Hashtag #PromiseHer to raise the awareness of young people on the issue and to ask them to pledge not to cut their daughters.” The campaign has gone viral on social media and many young people are sharing their stories, asking questions and getting information about FGM/C. Rewan deserves to be recognized as one of the global change makers in the field of SRHR.
What we’ve shared in these four little snippets is just a glimpse of the remarkable work that young people are doing and the impact they have on their societies and the world. Often confused for being future leaders, we want to acknowledge that these youths are already being leaders today. There are thousands – if not millions of youths around the world today that are making a difference. We encourage young people everywhere to take up active roles in their communities in whatever field they choose. And if you no longer identify as a youth, we are looking to you for your support and mentorship to help us reach our potential. If working in sexual and reproductive health and rights is a field that you’re interested in, be sure to join us!
All authors are part of the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP) is a registered 501(c)3 based in Washington, DC. It is a pro-choice, pro-rights organization for youth aged 15–30, no matter where they are from.
Josaphat Tjiho is a director, actor and scriptwriter who uses performing arts (Dance, Drama and Music) to tackle and advocate on issues affecting the youths in his community and country at large. He was the country coordinator of IYAFP in Namibia.
Chibuike Alagboso trained as a Medical Laboratory Scientist. He is passionate about Global Health, media and social entrepreneurship. He is the cofounder of HealthNewsNG.com, a 2017 fellow of the Nelson Mandela Washington Fellowship for young African leaders and served as the country coordinator of IYAFP in Nigeria.
Ramya Jawahar is a graduate in Law. She focusses on international advocacy mechanisms, communications and exploring the context of sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) in South Asia. Ramya is currently pursuing a Masters in Law at Fordham University School of Law in New York City. Her chosen concentration is International Law and Justice. Ramya works as Director of Policy and Advocacy at IYAFP.
Norhan Bader is from Egypt and a physician, researcher, and advocate on Sexual Rights and Reproductive Health. She finished a Master of Public Health (MPH) from the American University of Beirut (AUB). Norhan works as Director of Projects at IYAFP.
Marietta Wildt graduated with an MA and MSc in Global Studies from the universities of Wroclaw, Poland, and Roskilde, Denmark. Her focus of research was femicide and poetry as a medium of female resistance. After doing research on health care politics in Canada and working in community organizing, Marietta is now based in Germany and uses her background in academia, grassroot activism, and NGOs to improve the lives of youth and women. Marietta works as Director of Public Relations at IYAFP.
Fila Magnus hold a BSc degree in Psychology and Communications at the Upper Iowa University (Malaysia). Driven by the desire to make a difference and improve the lives of refugees, children, youths and women, Fila has involved herself across several different organizations that work to do just that. Fila works as Director of Communications at IYAFP.