Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

World Contraception Day: Young People Plan, Young People Decide

September 13, 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.

World Contraception Day will be celebrated for the 6th time on September 26, 2012. For six years we’ve worked to shine a spotlight on these key issues, but some people still disregard the importance of providing universal access to quality contraceptive services and information to prevent unplanned pregnancies, especially among young people.

Even today, there seems to be a maintained reluctance to accept that the healthy and pleasurable exercise of our sexuality is desirable regardless of our age. This includes the right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of one’s children and to have the information and means to do so. This helps to understand why young people’s increasing demand to access contraceptive methods and information remains unmet.

Yet this not the only barrier we, young people, face. Lack of timely and comprehensive sexuality education, limited choice of methods, violence and traditional gender roles are also underlying causes of the high rates of unwanted teen pregnancies worldwide. Adolescent pregnancy can lead to unsafe abortion practices and maternal death, health problems during and after pregnancy, school dropout or poor school performance when teen pregnancies occur, and high rates of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

In Mexico, one in three women have their first pregnancy in adolescence, according to the report, “La situación demográfica de México 2009.”  However, sexual and reproductive rights of young people continue to be neglected, and access to contraceptive methods denied. The lack of recognition that adolescents and young people are sexually active and entitled to exercise their reproductive rights beyond family planning has lead to the prioritization of married women to access contraceptives. And even though the Ministries of Health and Education committed to change this trend by signing the Ministerial Declaration “Preventing Through Education”, in 2008, little has been done to implement and/or strengthen strategies of comprehensive sexuality education and promotion of sexual and reproductive health among young people.

These problems not only undermine our well-being, but also hinder our possibilities to develop our full potential. Therefore, young people’s access to contraceptive information and services becomes a human rights issue.

But how can this right be acknowledged, respected and guaranteed? There’s neither an easy nor a unique response to this question. Interventions at all levels are needed and youth involvement is fundamental. Raising awareness and sensitizing government representatives, parents, health providers, and church leaders to accept that youth contraception must be addressed is the first step. However, it is also necessary to develop laws and policies that recognize our sexual and reproductive health and rights; create mechanisms to ensure young people’s significant involvement in decision-making processes that affect our lives and health; and allocate resources to comply with the commitments governments have made to guarantee the availability of and accessibility to contraceptive methods for young people. Furthermore, measures to ensure accountability have to be implemented.

Work must be done at an individual level as well – and boys and young men must be involved. For instance, it is important to educate young people to eradicate the idea that women are solely responsible of preventing unwanted pregnancies.  And, more and better programs to end dating violence need to be implemented as violence often prevents young women from negotiating safer sex with their male partners and/or puts them at higher risk of sexual abuse. Encouraging peer education in different contexts and advocating for investments in youth-friendly health services can really make a difference to girls and boys around the world.

Finally, when thinking about the most useful tools to disseminate information about our sexual and reproductive rights, including access to a variety of contraceptive methods, we must not overlook the potential of the new information and communication technologies. Whether you decide to receive an SMS (short message service) on your mobile to inform you about different family planning services in your neighborhood, or create a binding virtual community through Facebook and Twitter, numerous possibilities exist.

In the end, World Contraception Day is about recognizing people’s right to choose what is best for them and working towards building a future where every pregnancy is planned and wanted.

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