Engaging Young People from the Beginning – SRHR
For young people, their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are a crucial part of their lives – whether they are sexually active or not.
However, it is also important to recognize the important role young people can play in delivering effective SRHR programs and improved health outcomes. Through the Access, Services and Knowledge program (ASK, 2013-2015), researchers completed extensive research on meaningful youth participation (MYP) in relation to their SRHR. Results indicated the need to engage young people in the design and implementation of SRHR programs.
First, MYP will lead to more effective adolescent SRHR programs and policies because young people themselves are best able to voice their needs, realities, and opinions. Fanuel Getachew, a Youth Advocate for the Talent Youth Association in Ethiopia, explained his experience as an MYP trainer: “When delivering trainings, I have realized that young people have a different perspective about societal problems and they present innovative solutions to address them.” By meaningfully involving in SRHR programs from the beginning, young people increase their knowledge on SRHR-related topics, as was demonstrated by research conducted on MYP in Indonesia. This knowledge in turn enables young people to make more informed decisions regarding their own sexual health and rights.
The research also demonstrated the meaningfully engaging youth can greatly enhance the reach, attractiveness, relevance, and effectiveness of advocacy on SRHR-related issues (and beyond), since advocacy that is meaningfully informed by young people is more likely to take into account their actual lived realities, and to ensure that their needs and opinions are reflected. In Ethiopia, advocacy efforts led government institutions to hire youth development agents and train 30 health workers in youth-friendly health services.
Youth Ambassadors for SRHR serve as another best practice. In Denmark, the Youth Ambassador for SRHR works closely with policymakers at the Ministry, the Dutch Ambassador for SRHR and HIV/AIDS, civil society organizations, and youth advocates from around the world, advocating for youth-centered SRHR. The Youth Ambassador SRHR gets access to official and informal negotiation spaces – normally off limits to young people – therefore creating a unique opportunity to connect and support the international SRHR youth movement. In addition, involving young people in programs increases their legitimacy, acceptance, and influence among community members.
These research results prove the impact that youth engagement can have on the efficacy of programs.
At the same time, it is also critical to recognize the impact this engagement can have on empowering youth and leading to better SRHR outcomes. MYP can enhance young people’s confidence and teach them important life skills. In fact, research conducted in Ethiopia revealed that young people who participated as peer educators in an SRH program became more confident, which enabled them to talk in meetings and discuss issues around sexuality with their parents. Fanue had a similar experience noting that “I have seen new ways to solve problems and I have seen how engaging youth can significantly increase information provision and program success, in general.” And it’s not just within programs that youth grow and develop skills, MYP allows young people to see their value and to be recognized for it – in all areas of their lives. Fanuel adds: “Being involved in the development and being listened to was the most empowering and fulfilling feeling. It gave me a sense of belonging to the solution, encouraging me to engage more.”