This week the discussion on family planning has been squarely focused on the 120 million additional women in the developing world who need access to family planning education, services, and contraceptives. What many haven’t realized is that of those 120 million women 26 million are girls. This is a critical figure because the renewed global family planning effort that came out of the London Summit on Family Planning this week can help prevent more young girls from having unplanned and unwanted pregnancies and also from dying in childbirth. This gives girls a greater chance at an education and the ability to wait to have children when they are older.
At the Summit, I spoke to three youth advocates from Bangladesh, Togo, and Ethiopia. Their desire to spread the word to their peers about contraceptive use, reproductive health, and sex education was palpable. They realize the impact they can and do have in their respective communities to empower and educate fellow youth about the use of contraceptives, especially in light of the overwhelming stigma about sex.
They expressed to me that their lives would have been easier if their parents had spaced the birth of their children, and if their family size was not so big. Growing up one of many siblings, poor and in a rural area, in a developing country is taxing for everyone.
Aselef Belete Endal, a Save the Children Youth Advocate from Ethiopia, and captain of her youth soccer team was spurred to spread the word about contraceptives when she looked at her own situation at home. Endal said she often gets sad because as the ninth child out of ten she sees how her oldest two siblings were able to get much more than the rest of the children. “My family is poor and I became interested to teach others,” said Endal through a translator.
The renewed global family planning effort that came out of the London Summit on Family Planning this week can help prevent more young girls from having unplanned and unwanted pregnancies and also from dying in childbirth.
Kokou Senamé, an International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Youth Advocate, from Togo stressed the importance of youth leadership, youth empowerment, and peer-to-peer counseling for youths. He recalled that when an adult taught sexuality classes in his village, every time the woman mentioned “sex” she would giggle for five minutes. To him, young people are better able to talk to other young people about sex and contraceptives. Senamé also mentioned that access to mobile technology has broadened the communication channels to reach youth. Now Facebook and Twitter and other forms of social media are being used to inform about key sex education issues and can drive home the importance of using contraceptives.
Syefa Ahmed from Bangladesh, also an International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Youth Advocate, mentioned the youth perspective on contraceptives and reproductive health as opposed to adults. “It’s about how we feel about ourselves,” said Ahmed. “They think it’s all about sex.” Working to alleviate the stigma many of her peers feel about sex education and reproductive health Ahmed and her fellow youth advocates in Bangladesh provide support, education, and contraceptives to those who need them, even if they choose to keep it secret from their families.
Much of family planning’s future rests in the hands of the youth – both young men and women. They are the ones who need to educate and be educated by their peers in order to ensure family planning, reproductive health, and contraceptives become less taboo, shunned and feared, but instead welcomed and utilized.