Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

World Contraception Day: Young People's Access to Contraception

September 17, 2012

This blog is part of a series, edited by Women Deliver, in partnership with Impatient Optimists, on youth perspectives to celebrate World Contraception Day. Share your thoughts in comments and join the conversation at #WCD2012. For more stories and to get involved further visit No Controversy.

Unfortunately, there is a misconception among young people that contraceptives are only for married and older people. But I know that family planning is important to young people too. Young or old, family planning should be a simple and personal decision made by informed individuals or couples regarding how often and when to have children.

Comments like, “You are still young. What do you need contraceptives for?” keep young people away. I will never forget the day I went to a pharmacy as a peer educator to find out about contraceptives. There was an older medical provider who stared at me in disappointment and disbelief when I told her I was looking for contraceptive pills. This experience confirmed the stories young people had told me about their fears of asking for contraceptives outside the youth center. After that, I decided to find out as much information as possible about contraceptives and where young people can access them without feeling embarrassed or scrutinized. It’s unfortunate that many young people fear the judgment that comes with requesting contraceptives.

In order to make informed decisions regarding their future, it is important for young people to have access to timely information and contraceptives. Young people will not stop having sex because adults are not providing information about contraceptives. In Uganda, statistics show that one in four teenagers (25 percent) aged 15-19 have begun childbearing. Only 11 percent of young people this age are using family planning, and unmet need for family planning for 15-19 year-olds is 33.8 percent. This clearly shows that young people, especially young women, are having sex and not using family planning.

Too often, teenagers in Uganda want family planning but are unable to access it, and too often, pregnant teenage girls have to give up on their dreams. They have to deal with disappointment from their peers and parents, and these girls are rarely given a second chance, even at the university level. Best friends begin to disappear because they do not want to be associated with pregnant peers. And, many times, the expecting fathers leave because they are not ready to become parents.

Young people need to demand their reproductive health rights -- including access to contraceptives and the ability to decide when to have children. Every year, it is estimated that 297,000 women in Uganda have abortions, many of which are unsafe. These girls are determined to rub shoulders with death rather than going through with the pregnancy.

There are several strategies that can help increase access to and awareness of contraceptives for girls. One of the most effective ways to reach girls is through sports – research is beginning to show that participation in sports may have a positive effect on sexual behaviors, in addition to knowledge and attitudes.

Young people cannot afford to sit back and do nothing when key reproductive health issues are being ignored. We need to put more effort into making our voices heard, and into sharing the right information with other young people in our communities. And, governments and adults need to realize that providing contraceptives and timely information to young people is necessary – whether or not they are sexually active.

 
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