Katja Iversen & William O Otuku : Correspondents
Many communities in sub-Saharan Africa and globally still do not embrace girls’ and women’s right to sexual and reproductive health care. Poor access to comprehensive sex education and services is one of the most pressing issues facing girls and women, and all young people, today. This is the reason we need to invest more in the health, rights and well-being of girls and women throughout sub-Saharan Africa and the world.While this region has made significant progress to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights, there still remains much to be done.
As of 2012, in sub-Saharan Africa, 42 percent of women wanted to avoid pregnancy, but only 17 percent were using modern contraception.
Globally, more than 225 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using modern contraceptives.
If we filled these global gaps with sexual and reproductive health services, education and rights – and provide women with the full range of pregnancy care they are entitled to – we could reduce unintended pregnancy by 70 percent and unsafe abortions by 74 percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
We also know that when girls and women can choose when and whether to have children, they are more likely to reach their full potential – and so are their families, communities and economies.
For these reasons we owe it to our mothers, sisters and daughters, as well as our families and communities, to do more and do better – and young people are leading the charge.
In Tanzania, for example, a youth-led non-governmental organisation called “Young and Alive Initiative” is dedicated to ensuring full access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and services for young people. Young people work directly in primary and secondary schools to provide adolescents with comprehensive sexual education.
They use the arts to engage parents, guardians, and teachers around SRHR issues and to provide accurate information to young people.
Song, dance and poetry can touch hearts and change minds, nudging communities and generations to overcome stigma and taboos throughout society – including sex, health and rights.
Youth advocates are using these tools to bring quality education and information directly to those who need it most.
We must approach health and development through this gender lens. And, we must look for solutions from every region, sector and generation – from providing quality care at local clinics to youth-led trainings about SRHR.
These solutions and many more will be explored at the Women Deliver 2016 Conference taking place in Copenhagen in May.
Global and local leaders, such as Mrs Graça Machel, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Farhan Akhtar, will stand alongside fife thousand world influencers and advocates – from the highest-levels of government to grassroots change-makers – to discuss how to deliver on promises to girls and women.
Crucially, a good 20 percent of attendees will be young people – and for good reason: young people aren’t just our tomorrow. They are the leaders of today, and must be given opportunities to drive change in their communities.
With the endorsement of the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals – a set of UN goals adopted by 193 countries that aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all by 2030 – we can and must ensure that the global push to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change starts with every girl and woman, no matter where she lives, no matter her age.
As they say, it is time to translate the “talk into walk” and turn speech lines into budget lines.
This International Women’s Day, let’s recognise the powerful solutions every young person and every generation has to offer. Let’s work smarter for girls and women everywhere.
Katja Iversen is a Women Deliver CEO while William O Otuku is a Women Deliver Young Leader and Co-Founder and Chair of Young and Alive Initiative.