As we write this, the world is on the cusp of something
unprecedented: the largest generation of young people in human history is approaching
Not only is this generation the biggest, it is likely to be the
healthiest and most educated the world has ever seen. More have gone to school
than any previous generation. Most of them are vaccinated against the diseases
that devastated populations that came before them. As they have grown, more have
benefited from the nutrients their bodies and minds need to develop to their
fullest potential. No previous generation has ever been so well-equipped to expand
the limits of human possibility.
But for all the investments society has made in this
generation, there is one crucial area in which we are falling short: ensuring their
access to contraceptives. In sub-Saharan Africa, almost half of unmarried,
sexually active adolescents who want to avoid pregnancy are not using
contraceptives. Similarly, one in four married adolescents who want to prevent
a pregnancy are not using a contraceptive method. The risks they face are
enormous and threaten progress for everyone.
That is why family planning is an issue we should all care
about. When a young woman gets pregnant before she turns 20, it can rob her of
the chance to live her healthiest and most productive life. A teenager who
becomes pregnant faces higher risk of eclampsia and infection. In low- and
middle-income countries, complications in pregnancy and childbirth are a
leading cause of death for adolescent girls. Thousands more young women survive
childbirth but suffer from pregnancy-related health issues for the rest of
Unplanned pregnancy interrupts young women’s plans in other
ways, too. An adolescent who becomes pregnant often drops out of school,
lowering her lifelong earning potential and trapping her family in an
intergenerational cycle of poverty. Babies born to teenagers are more likely to
be born early, be undernourished and suffer poor health.
We are sensitive to the fact that the topic of contraceptives
remains controversial, especially as it relates to young people. But many
countries have successfully tackled the sensitivities and our responsibility to
this generation and to our shared future demands we act.
In 2012, 36 countries came together to form a global
partnership to support the right of women and girls to decide for themselves
whether and when to get pregnant. This effort aims to provide an additional 120
million women and girls with access to contraceptives by 2020. We have made
progress, reaching 24.4 million more women by 2015.
But far less progress has been made to reach adolescent girls
who continue to have a high unmet need for contraception. It is now clear that
any successful effort to expand contraceptives to adolescents must address the
specific challenges facing young people.
For example, we’ve learned that, too often, the adults to
whom young people turn for guidance are uncomfortable discussing topics like
sex and family planning—or they fear that by having conversations about sex, they
will appear to condone it. The result is that young people’s views of
contraceptives are often shaped by rumors and misinformation. Girls worry that
using contraceptives or carrying condoms would make people think they were
promiscuous—or even prostitutes. Married adolescents are often pressured to have
a child right after marriage making it challenging to access contraceptive
services if they want to wait before becoming pregnant. And, in many places,
young women – both married and unmarried – don’t have a place to seek high-quality
counseling and care from an unbiased healthcare provider.
To combat the challenges connecting young people with
contraceptives, our two organizations are coming together to invest $30 million
in improving adolescents’ ability to control their future. In partnership with Population
Services International and others, the goal is to expand access to contraceptive
tools and services for more young women and their partners in Ethiopia,
Tanzania and Nigeria.
This grant, Adolescents 360, will fund programs developed by young people, for young people that respond to adolescents’ specific and varied needs
in obtaining contraceptives. We will look to adolescents themselves to identify
solutions to help combat the stigma and misinformation that often stand between
their peers and contraceptives. Our hope is that this initiative will be a step
toward better understanding this diverse and complex generation, and that our
work in this area will inspire other donors and governments to put adolescents
at the center of their efforts to expand contraceptive access.
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of young women each
year whose dreams—and even lives—are cut short by unwanted pregnancies. But
imagine what is possible if we could give every one of those young women the
tools to determine her own future.
We know from the data that when girls are able to go to
school, their own children are more likely to survive childhood. Young women
who have completed some education have better prospects in the workplace and a
greater chance of living a fuller, more fulfilling life. What’s more, the
evidence is clear that there is a direct relationship between the number of
girls who go to school and a country’s economic progress. When countries invest
in young women, they’re investing in their own economic future and setting the
stage for rapid growth.
Anderson is the CEO of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.
is the president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda
This blog was originally posted on the Financial Times' Beyond BRICS blog on January 25, 2016. (here)