ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – UNFPA participated today in two key sessions on youth empowerment and adolescent pregnancy at the third International Conference on Family Planning, under way in Addis Ababa from 12-15 November.
One of the largest gatherings in the area of sexual and reproductive health, the conference is calling attention to the wide-ranging benefits of family planning to make the world a better place for women, children and youth.
At the plenary session Building the Future: the Young and the Restless, panellists emphasized the need to promote the leadership of more than 1.8 billion young people around the world – the next generation of leaders – and to rework the design and implementation of sexual and reproductive services targeting youth. Most importantly, the sociocultural barriers that prevent adolescent girls and young women from accessing sexual and reproductive health need to be addressed.
“We need to put sex back into the family planning agenda,” said Kate Gilmore, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director (Programme), adding that leaders should get out of their discomfort zones on sexual and reproductive health issues and confront the reality. The smart thing to do to protect young people from sexually transmitted infections, early marriage, and teenage pregnancy to facilitate a safe passage into adulthood, she said.
Ms. Gilmore also noted that sexual and reproductive health is a multisectoral issue, and underlined the urgent need to push for adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health and rights in the future development agenda.
Mr. Tewodros Melesse, Director General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, highlighted that young people should have a leadership role in the provision of sexual and reproductive health services. He underscored that education should empower young people and serve as the framework for countries to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend.
The session focused on the need to put in place innovative strategies for sexual and reproductive health programmes, to improve work through youth-to-youth sexuality education, and proactively engage boys and men in the process. Mentorship programmes were cited as a key component in building life skills for adolescent girls and young women.
No Motherhood in Childhood
A concurrent session on adolescent pregnancy organized by UNFPA, Girlhood, Not Motherhood , took up the issue of adolescent pregnancy.
Speaking on the subject, Dr. Nema Keita, Minister of Health of Guinea Conakry, noted that “we are sitting on a powder keg and we don’t know when it is going to explode.”
Dr. Keita indicated that the medical services in his country were not tailored to deal with the challenge, but that the government is currently working with partners like UNFPA to provide youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services. He also talked about the necessity to incorporate comprehensive sexual education in schools.
Dr. Kebede Worku, Minister of Health of Ethiopia, highlighted the need for a multisectoral approach to address adolescent pregnancy. In this context, he spoke about Ethiopia’s efforts to ensure gender equality in school enrolment, develop a legal framework to prevent child marriage, and address deep-rooted practices that prevent young women from accessing sexual and reproductive health services.
Dr. Worku also noted that there is a need to inform men about sexuality so that they learn to care for young girls and their safe transition to adulthood.
The participants were joined by two young activists, Leopoldina Manjatefrom from Mozambique and William Otuck from Tanzania, who shared their stories of resilience and courage, and discussed their work helping adolescent girls and young women access sexual and reproductive health services.
“It is high time that we discussed sex openly,” said Ms. Gilmore, “at the heart of this lies the health of the youth who are our future.”