Engaging Youths as Change Agents For Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights – Lanre Olagunju

One of the smart ways to save time and scarce resources yet get optimal result is by investing in activities, initiatives and schemes that are designed to bring about multiple ripple effect and outcomes. And that’s exactly what you get when you invest in young people to bring about colossal change, especially when it comes to issues that directly concerns them. It is important that world leaders stop seeing young people as part of the problem especially when issues like getting them employment is concerned. A lot more potential lies in engaging youths to engage their peers. Achieving the MDGs related to sexual and reproductive health rights, maternal and newborn Health, and family planning related issues as it concerns population growth, might remain wishful thinking until government begins to engage youths and adolescents as young leaders with huge potential to reach out to new groups of young people.

Engaging youths and adolescent will produce better outcomes for MDG 3 (which is centered on promoting gender equality and empowering women), and also MDG 4, 5 and 6 which has to do with (reducing child mortality), (improving maternal health) and then (combating HIV/ AIDS, malaria, and other diseases) respectively.

I personally admit that youth participation is getting better, I was impressed as a young person when I attended the 2013 Family Planning Conference in Addis Ababa and I was pleased to know that the organizers scheduled a three days meeting to aid interactions and discussions based on sexual  and reproductive health rights, essentially as it affect young people. More importantly, the delegates in attendance were charged with the responsibility of coming up with an action plan that is achievable and sustainable.

This is a welcomed idea and these engagements need to be intensified because more needs to be done in terms of youth participation. The beauty of this lies in the fact that when youths act as change agent in matters that directly affect them like SRHR, it is guaranteed that the essence of such engagement will be able to reach other young people. WHO panel of experts have proven that using radio and supporting media efforts is also an effective tool for youth focused communication on sexual and reproductive health knowledge. It has been identified that these tools leads to change in risky behaviors and the encouragement of abstinence and use of condom.

Another benefit of engaging young people is because of the transitional potential that it offers. When youths between the ages of 14 and 25 years of age are well engaged and equipped with the valid information to guide their sexual choices, it is guaranteed that having a critical mass of such informed population, transit into young adult is a huge potential that speaks volume. Therefore, they are more likely to delay getting married, have fewer children, hence increase the chances of their kids to be healthier, better nourished, and better educated.

Report has it that nearly 50% of the developing world population are youths and children. And for statistical purposes, the UN has clearly defined youth as individuals between the ages of 15 and 24. Therefore, going by the statistics that says there are 1.2 billion 15 to 24 years old in the world, (which is expected to keep increasing for at least another two decades) putting the stated statistics in mind, and also noting that in every 24 hours,  about 6,000 youths are infected with HIV, sadly, majority are actually young women in developing countries, it becomes crucial to get young people involved in policy formulation, so they can easily fashion out youth friendly services that their peers will be willing to utilize, most especially when they are readily available and accessible.

All hands musts be on deck to ensure that young people make the right sexual choices. Most especially young women, since they seem to be more affected. Young women are less likely to use contraceptives. And when they get pregnant, their education suffers for it. To crown it all, pregnant adolescent are at the risk of maternal mortality and complications that accompanies delivery. We also mustn’t forget that on a yearly basis, young people account for the more than 100 million fresh cases of sexually transmitted infections. Putting all these together, we can’t neglect the need to provide access to reproductive health information and services that are accessible and youth friendly.

The reality that one billion of the said young people are in developing countries signifies why more structures must be put in place to rightly engage youths and adolescents considering the opportunity that these youth bulge presents.  As it is only wise that those who are most affected are invited to the table as decision-makers and not just mere observers. Some of the challenges affecting young people are quite complex, excluding them in discussions that affect their day to day realities doesn’t make any sense.

When young people make contributions, governments need to consider these contributions and policies on matters affecting them. This seriously needs  to become the norm around the globe, essentially if the report that says that by 2015, there will be three billion people under the age of 25, is anything to go by. This clearly shows that young people are not just the future like many readily believe, they in fact are the now!

I am @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter

P.S A large part of this piece was first Published on the African Union Website CARMMA

***Lanre Olagunju is an hydrologist turned freelance journalist. He has a degree in hydrology from the University of Agriculture Abeokuta and a professional diploma in journalism from the American College of Journalism. Lanre advocates on several international platforms for the prosperity and absolute well-being of the African continent. He's @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter