Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

World Contraception Day: Educating Young People About Their Health and Rights

September 19, 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. 

When addressing the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), we must first identify the many obstacles they face. In most of Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 90 percent of young people know at least one contraceptive method, but usage rates remain low, especially in rural areas. This is due, in part, to lack of youth-friendly services, myths about sexuality and reproductive health, lack of knowledge about sexual and reproductive rights as human rights, and gender inequality. To achieve our goals, we must look at why these obstacles exist, and how we can work to combat them.

One of the largest obstacles that young people face today in Latin America and the Caribbean is the lack of health services that work with their priorities and needs.  Adult experiences and perspectives are very different from those of young people.  For information and services to effectively reach young people, youth-friendly services are needed that encourage youth to be agents of their own social and health welfare. On the other hand, the responsibility is not on young people alone—health providers must be trained to respect the sexual and reproductive rights of young people and to approach prevention and treatment from an integrative and holistic view.

Even with effective health services in place, youth still require comprehensive education so that harmful myths on sexuality and reproductive health can be dispelled. Some people believe that a woman can’t get pregnant after her first intercourse, that having sex while standing prevents pregnancy, and that men need to have more sex to be “manly.” There are many other myths out there preventing young people from having healthy experiences. We must work now to break down those myths through comprehensive sexual education.

This requires Health and Education Ministers to work together at the central and local levels with young people to develop curriculum that approaches sexual and reproductive rights as human rights.  Also, social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, blogs and smartphone applications are the fastest way to reach youth directly, and should be used in creative and innovative ways to convey important information.

Finally, in order to promote young people’s sexual and reproductive rights, we need to address gender roles and stereotypes. Patriarchy and hegemony have led to young women having to take on a lot, if not all, of the responsibility for their and their partner’s sexual and reproductive health. Young men, on the other hand, have been raised to be macho and to show strength; visiting health centers does not appear to them to be an appropriate portrayal of their masculinity. It is important that we address this, and include the gender perspective in our work in sexual and reproductive health. From here, we can make the theme of World Contraception Day 2012 – “Your future. Your choice. Your contraception.” – become a reality for all young people.

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