ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – One of the largest gatherings in the area of sexual and reproductive health, the third International Conference on Family Planning opened today in Addis Ababa, calling attention to the wide-ranging benefits of family planning to make the world a better place for women, children and youth.
“We can translate women’s rights into women’s reality,” said Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopian Prime Minister and current Chair of the African Union (AU), in his opening address. “It is my strong belief that this conference will be enriched by our experience on the ground and will assist countries to improve access to family planning.”
In his opening statement, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin reminded the audience of the importance of young people to promote development and reap the benefits of the demographic dividend.
“It can only happen if we invest in education, and if young people can exercise their rights,” said Dr. Osotimehin. “However, for as long as we have child marriage, adolescent pregnancy, and violations of the rights of the girl-child, we won’t get there. Some 7.2 million girls get pregnant every year – 200,000 every day. We have to stop this. And we can do it,” he added.
Other key panellists highlighted the momentum that has been built in the area of family planning, the results achieved so far, and challenges ahead.
The Family Planning Conference was preceded by a High-level Ministerial Meeting, which invited Ministers of Health from several countries to visit health posts and learn more about progress made in Ethiopia, especially the country’s flagship health extension programme.
Health extension programme transforming remote areas of Ethiopia
With 34,000 government-paid health workers deployed in rural areas to provide a package of primary health care services, the health extension programme has helped Ethiopia achieve health related development goals ahead of time. Through the programme, health workers engage with village leaders in local languages to raise awareness about health issues and encourage the population to come to health centres and use their services.
These health workers are joined by three million women volunteer leaders that are mobilized across Ethiopia to bring social transformation to remote areas.
Balanish Gamada is one of them. Head of the Women’s Office in the Aleltu woreda – or local administrative division – in the Oromia region close to the capital, she is responsible for a population of 38,000.
Ms. Gamada, 27, provides counselling and information to help increase the use of health services, including family planning, at the nearest health centre.
For Ms. Gamada and the main issue is that awareness about reproductive health issues is not equal. Cultural barriers pose challenges, especially since women’s independence and empowerment are still regarded as something that “goes against the custom,” she explains. The volunteers play a pivotal role in reducing misconceptions about family planning and fighting the harmful traditional practices that prevent women from seeking health services.
The small team is succeeding in promoting change. This year, the number of beneficiaries has increased despite challenges.
Focus on Youth
The conference is being attended by approximately 3,000 participants, many of them young people who participated in a series of pre-conferences focused on youth.
During a pre-conference event held at the African Union, young delegates from 31 African countries focused on sexual and reproductive health and the importance of investing in youth to help countries reap the benefits of the demographic dividend. They also discussed developing a youth agenda for the continent, and how it could be integrated in the ICPD Beyond 2014 and post-2015 development priorities.
Approximately 90 per cent of the global population of 1.8 billion young people aged 10 to 24 live in developing countries. Africa is one of the youngest continents in the world, with large groups particularly vulnerable to poor sexual and reproductive health. For example, births by adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 account for 16 per cent of all births in sub-Saharan Africa every year.
Organized around four major themes – social change; enabling environment for youth mobilization; youth-friendly services; and comprehensive sexuality education – the pre-conference allowed the young delegates to develop recommendations, an outcome statement, and a plan of action.to move forward on these areas.
The priorities highlighted in the final document include:
- the importance of access to comprehensive sexuality education for young people in and out of school;
- the need to adapt health services to meet the needs of young people;
- stronger participation of young people in decision-making processes, particularly on health issues.
The Family Planning conference continues through 15 November to address the challenges and results achieved in the area of family planning, including successful practices, innovations and an enhanced focus on young people.
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